Youth unemployment

Other Names:
High cost of youth unemployment
Youth job vacuum
Unavailability of youth employment
Unregulated youth employment

The human wastage caused by unemployment is intensified when those affected are young. Young people are by definition in a period of change, as they move from the end of childhood towards entry into the world of work. There are, at the same time, other forms of change, resulting particularly from migration and assimilation into new sectors. Adolescents' characters are still impressionable and the shock of their finding that society has no place for them, and in fact condemns them to poverty and marginal existence, is embittering. Large-scale youth unemployment is a loss to the whole of society, both in terms of training opportunities missed and by alienation of an entire generation.

Youth unemployment is disproportionately high in a number of countries, indicating that the problem is structural. Employers preferences seem to be for the 25 to 35 or 40 year-olds, whose experience assures higher productivity. Young persons are often forced to take jobs which offer no training and no future and are dead-ends. Particularly in developing countries, young migrants and refugees, rural youth and urban poor, disabled youth and young women are, very often, marginalized. The most of them live and work in unregulated employment conditions. Their situation is closely linked to the problems of extending social protection to workers in this sector, which is a significant grey area in most developing countries.


Youth unemployment has reached record levels in recent years. Globally, less than half of the youth available for work had jobs in 2004.

According to the ILO, the proportion of economically active youth (15-24 year-olds) in the working population had been falling in all areas since 1950. For the world as a whole that proportion had fallen from 27.0% in 1950 to 26.8% in 1985, and was projected to reach 22.0% by 2000. Indeed, the 1990s the teenage labour force was smaller in most countries that in the 1960s and 1970s. The percentage fall was greatest for the more developed regions (Japan, Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, former Soviet Republic): 26.0 in 1950; 19.6 in 1985 and 16.4 in 2000; compared with the less developed regions: 27.5 in 1950; 29.4 in 1985; 23.5 in 2000. However, youth unemployment statistics in developing countries relate mainly to educated youth in urban areas and cannot be said to represent the situation for the majority of young people, who fall outside this category. So unpaid labour, for example, mostly provided by young women, and the labour of other marginalized young people are not collected in labour statistics.

In industrialized countries there is an offset between decline in population growth and the future size of youth employment. For all countries, there is a pattern developing where the employment prospects of young people, and particularly disadvantaged youth, are not improving, raising the spectre of a generation of young people, born in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, facing a prolonged period of adult unemployment. In the developed OECD countries, approximately 40% of the current unemployed are 14 to 24 years of age.

In the EEC/EU countries the average is nearly the same. Unemployment among young people in Europe averaged 18% in 1993, with rates of more than 30% in Spain. In North America, figures have reached 50% in Canada for 14 to 24 year olds, while in the USA nearly 20% of the unemployed were young men between 16 and 19. In the USA in 1993, black and Latino youths had an official unemployment rate of 25 to 40% in the major cities. These data are considered an underestimation because from 75 to 80% of minority youth are never counted in official figures because they do not even seek work because they live in neighbourhoods where there are no jobs to be found.

In Australia, between August 1980 and February 1996, full-time employment for 15-19 year olds decreased by 21%. In 1980 the proportion of 15-24 year olds in full-time employment was around 84%. In 1996 it had fallen to 35%. On current trends it is likely that there will be no full-time jobs available for 15-19 year olds by the year 2001. Full-time jobs for 20-24 year olds are also disappearing rapidly. Recessions accelerate the process. At the end of the 1990 recession the percentage of full-time jobs held by 15-24 year olds had declined from 21% in 1989 to 17% in 1993. At the same time, insecure part-time work and casual positions have increased dramatically. The number of 14-24 year old part-time workers more than doubled between 1980-96.

Youth unemployment in the less developed countries is better expressed in tens of millions, rather than a percentage, and global youth unemployment may be of the order of 35 million. More than 300 million young people are underpaid or unpaid. In these situations, youth employment problems are part and parcel of the overall problem of poverty, unemployment and underemployment.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST