The Global Youth Jobless Crisis: A Tragic Mess That Is Not Getting Any Better

Europe's unemployment inequality is simply astonishing. Germany's jobless rate for young people is 8.2 percent. In Greece, it's 54.2 percent.


Elevated and lasting unemployment is an awful thing, anywhere, and for anyone. But it is awful in a special way for young people, cutting them off from networks and starting salaries at the moment they need to forge connections and begin to cobble together a career.

A new study from the International Labor Organization takes a global tour of youth joblessness and finds that what's gone up won't come down in the next five years. The youth unemployment rate* among the richest countries is projected to flat-line, rather than fall, before 2018. As a result, the global Millennial generation could be uniquely scarred by the economic downturn. Research by Lisa Kahn has showed that people graduating into a recession have typically faced a lifetime of lower wages.

As Ritchie King from Quartz shows in the graph to the left, it's now "harder for a teenager or young adult to find a job in developed economies than in Sub-Saharan Africa."

Lurking under the rise of youth unemployment among the richest countries is an even scarier trend -- the rise of long-term youth unemployment. Long-term unemployment isn't just a difference in length; it's a difference in kind, because the more time you spend out of a company, the less likely you are to be hired back into one. In many European countries, particularly Spain, the increase in unemployment has come almost exclusively from people being out of work longer than two-years. In advanced economies, "longterm unemployment has arrived as an unexpected tax on the current generation of youth," ILO writes. About half of Europe's unemployed youth have been out of work for more than six months, according to 2011 data.

American audiences are probably most interested in how our Millennial generation compares to young people around the world. So, from table B1 at the end of the paper, I picked a few OECD countries and graphed the last eight years of youth unemployment.

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Three final takeaways:

(1) The lowest youth unemployment rate in ILO's database in 2012 was Switzerland, at 6.2 percent. The highest was Greece, at 54.2 percent.

(2) The worst stat in the report? It might be the youth unemployment rate for Greek women, at an astonishing 62.1 percent. (Given the prevalence of part-time work for women across Europe, the U6-type underemployment rate could be significantly higher.)

(3) The incredibly low unemployment rate in Germany -- just 8.2 percent, half the rate of the United States, and nearly a third the rate of the euro zone (22.6 percent) -- stands as one of any number of statistics that makes a mockery of Europe's economic union project.


* Statistical Wonkery Note: There are different definitions of "youth" and "unemployment" around the world, but the ILO calculates youth unemployment as the share of 15-24-year olds in the labor force (working/looking for work) who do not report to be working at all. 

This is not to be confused with the employment-population ratio, which has fallen around the world since 2007 not only because of higher unemployment, but also because of higher school attendance.

Other ILO categories include NEET (Not Employed, or in Education or Training) and "labor underutilization" (a broader definition of underemployment that includes young people with "irregular, poor-quality, low wage jobs").


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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