What does the data tell us about youth unemployment in the developing world?
Unemployment rates for youth are invariably higher than those for adults. This reflects several factors, including the lack of experience of young people entering the labour market for the first time, and the lack of strong work-related networks that are often important for finding a job.
The level of youth unemployment varies across countries. Particularly in low-income countries, many workers have to accept any job just to make a living. This may be, and in parts of the developing world is very likely to be, a low-productivity job without any employment benefits or social protection. Therefore it is necessary to look beyond unemployment rates and to consider employment quality. In general, employment quality in developing countries falls short of that in the developed world.
It would be wrong to consider youth employment issues exclusively through the lens of unemployment. Youth unemployment rates are typically highest in the Middle East and north Africa, but other developing regions, including sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, suffer from widespread low-quality jobs for youth as well as adults.
How is the data collected?
Data on youth unemployment are collected through household surveys conducted by national statistical agencies in virtually all countries in the world.
Although some developing countries conduct annual or even quarterly surveys, in many the frequency of data collection is lower, and less recent data are the best we have.
What are the main causes of youth unemployment?
Youth employment and unemployment statistics need to be monitored regularly as part of a set of economic and labour market indicators to help identify causes and remedies. Like in developed economies, part of the youth unemployment problem may be cyclical and related to economic upswings and downswings.
What do you see as being the long-term consequences?
Economic and social costs of unemployment and widespread low-quality jobs for young people are considerable. A high level of unemployment among young people or young people who are underutilised represents a waste of potential human resources and talent, and a drag on future growth.
Similarly the social costs of high youth unemployment are extremely high. Unemployment breeds social exclusion that, in turn, gives rise to high welfare dependence, crime and anti-social behaviour, and makes societies more vulnerable to civil disorder and political upheaval.
What are the main solutions?
There is no 'magic bullet' to tackle youth employment and unemployment issues, but important elements of such strategies include education and skills development, entrepreneurship development, and of course better labour market information, statistics and analysis.
Various actors have to consider their options to contribute to successful strategies, and benefit from the talents, energy and ideas that young people bring to the labour market and the economy. Many NGOs and others already do good work with youth, eg regarding opportunities for training, widening access to credit for entrepreneurs and so on.
In the European Union, the focus is currently on youth employment guarantees, and an important aspect of such guarantees is that all youth are offered opportunities. What is needed in developing economies is ultimately the same. All youth should have opportunities to contribute, and in many cases this means upscaling of successful programmes, so that more young people can both benefit and contribute.
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