In 2010, over 75 million young people were unemployed across the world. The global youth unemployment rate was 12.6 per cent, against a global adult unemployment rate of 4.8 per cent (UNDESA, 2012).
Why are young people less likely to find a job or source of livelihood than their prime-age counterparts? There are currently a number of barriers to youth employment:
- Excess supply of young jobseekers competing for jobs: high population growth rates, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, have led to an increasing supply of young jobseekers which has not been matched by employment opportunities. Young people are often the ‘last in’, because they lack experience, social networks and the know-how to market themselves as potential employees (ILO, 2010).
- The global economic downturn has led to freezes or reductions in the number of new positions, which can disproportionally affect young people who make up the bulk of new jobseekers (ILO, 2010). Young people are not only the ‘last in’ during difficult economic times, but also the ‘first out’, as employees tend to be more reluctant to lay off adult workers due to the costs involved.
- The quality and relevance of education is poor, as such, education is often not adequately tailored to the dynamic needs of the labour market.
- Discouragement and alienation from society. The longer that young people are without employment, the more difficult it becomes to reintegrate into the labour force and discouraged youth are in danger of feeling useless and alienated from society.
- Youth unemployment not highly prioritised – the 2012 UN World Youth Report highlighted young people’s sense of ‘hopelessness’ about their governments’ lack of prioritisation and ‘neglect’ of the youth employment challenge as well as the institutional capacity to address the problem.
- Exclusion of and discrimination against particular groups of young people, for example, according to gender, class, disability, ethnicity, education, family background and origin.
- Gender inequality within the labour market, education system and society more broadly.
The explanations behind the patterns of youth unemployment are likely to vary from region to region, and even from country to country. Case studies are presented of youth unemployment among poor, urban male youth in West Africa and graduate unemployment and female youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa.