Global perspective Human stories

Global youth unemployment skyrockets to all-time high, action needed – UN

Global youth unemployment skyrockets to all-time high, action needed – UN

With youth unemployment worldwide skyrocketing to an all-time high, the United Nations labour agency today called for a combination of targeted and integrated policies to tackle the problem, thus significantly benefiting the global economy.

“We are wasting an important part of the energy and talent of the most educated youth generation the world has ever had,” International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia said. “Enlarging the chances of young people to find and keep decent work is absolutely critical to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

These goals, set by the UN Millennium summit of 2000, call for achieving a set of specific targets by 2015, including halving extreme poverty and hunger and slashing child and maternal mortality rates.

Young people aged 15 to 24 represent nearly half the world’s jobless although they are only 25 per cent of the working age population, and halving world youth unemployment rate would add at least $2.2 trillion to global gross domestic product (GDP) equal to around 4 per cent of the 2003 value, according to a new ILO analysis – “Global Employment Trends for Youth 2004.”

The relative disadvantage of youth is more pronounced in developing countries, where they make up a strikingly higher proportion of the labour force than in industrialized economies, the report says. Eighty-five per cent of the world’s youth live in developing countries where they are 3.8 times more likely to be unemployed than adults, as compared with 2.3 times in industrialized economies.

But the problem goes far beyond the large number of young unemployed people – 47 per cent of the total 186 million people out of work worldwide in 2003. The report says that young people also represent 130 million of the world’s 550 million working poor who are unable to lift themselves and their families above the equivalent of the $1 per day poverty line. These young people struggle to survive, often performing work under unsatisfactory conditions in the informal economy.

The report puts global youth unemployment at 14.4 per cent in 2003, a 26.8 per cent increase over the past decade, with rates highest in the Middle East and North Africa (25.6 per cent), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (21 per cent), transition economies (18.6 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (16.6 per cent), Southeast Asia (16.4 per cent), South Asia (13.9 per cent), industrialized economies (13.4 per cent), and East Asia (7 per cent). The industrialized economies region was the only region where youth unemployment saw a distinct decrease from 15.4 per cent in 1993.

The report shows that the growth in the number of young people is rapidly outstripping the ability of economies to provide them with jobs. While the overall youth population grew by 10.5 per cent over the last 10 years to more than 1.1 billion in 2003, youth employment grew by only 0.2 per cent to around 526 million.

Policies to tackle the problem have been identified by Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Youth Employment Network (YEN), a UN-World Bank-ILO partnership that pools the skills, experiences and knowledge of diverse partners at the global, national and local level.