'An Economic Time Bomb': The World's Unemployed Youth

It doesn't matter if you're in Barcelona or Baghdad. If you're young, there's a very good chance you don't have a job.

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A protester throws a stone at policemen during riots in Syntagma square in Athens on April 4, 2012. (Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

Akmal Dildorbek is a 23-year-old university graduate in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. The former computer-science major remains unemployed, as do most of those who graduated with him two years ago. As he tells it, soon the only prospect he'll have is to leave home to join the flow of unemployed Central Asians seeking underpaid jobs in Russia.

"I'm jobless and living at home [with my parents]," Dildorbek tells RFE/RL. "I'm a computer programmer by [education] and I've applied for a job every place that needs a computer programmer. I've applied for jobs at banks, companies, and private firms. I'll continue to search for a job. If I can't find anything, I'll have to go Moscow to become a migrant laborer."

Dildorbek is one of an increasing number of young adults who are losing hope in a heavily globalized economy that has yet to shake off the effects of the financial crisis.

Suffering Disproportionately

There are warnings of a "lost generation" of young workers facing a potentially explosive mix of growing inactivity and precarious work in the industrialized world, along with high working poverty in developing countries.

According to the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO), more than 75 million people around the world between the ages of 15 and 24 are now without work -- an increase of nearly 4 million since the global financial crisis began in 2007. More than 6 million of them have given up on finding a job.
The difficulties that young people are facing reflect the weak state of labor markets. But Matthieu Cognac, a youth employment specialist with the ILO in Bangkok, tells RFE/RL that young people in particular are being left behind, since they're three times more likely to be unemployed than their elders.

"Young people are the ones who suffer more than others from discrimination," Cognac says. "In times of economic growth, they are usually the last in or the last hired. However, in times of crisis, they are also the first ones to be fired or they are the first out."

'Working Poverty'

In the European Union, one in five people under 25 willing to work cannot find a job. Many more young people are being pushed into part-time work contracts or into the informal economy. Unemployment is particularly acute in Spain and Greece, where half of high school and college graduates ready to work are coming up empty-handed.

Prospects for work also remain dim in swaths of the Asia-Pacific region, home to the world's largest youth population. One-in-6 young people is unemployed in Taiwan and the Philippines, while the ratio is 1-in-5 in Indonesia. The worst-off region is the Middle East and North Africa, where approximately 1-in-4 young people is without a job.

However, Cognac says that working poverty continues to be the main challenge facing the developing world.

"The key focus in Europe is job creation," Cognac says. "There are not enough jobs out there. The key focus in developing Asia is also creating jobs, but it is really a focus on the quality of those jobs because of the lack of social protection and the lack of social safety nets. Young people simply do not have any other option than to work in conditions of working poverty."

More Trouble Ahead

With some 40 million young people entering the workforce every year, labor-market experts and company bosses say the world is sitting on an economic and social time bomb.

Untapped youth potential is especially crucial in countries where the population is aging. In such places, a trend of fewer working young people translates into lower tax revenues to meet ballooning social costs. Those unemployed for a long time are less employable and earn less throughout their working lives.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says long-term unemployment is associated with "elevated risks of poverty, ill health, and school failure for the children of the affected workers."

Growing resentment and mistrust among young people can also foster social unrest. That was the case in the wave of Arab Spring protests that swept across North Africa and the Middle East in early 2011. More recently, severe austerity measures coupled with slow economic growth have fomented unrest in Southern Europe.

To-Do List?

Cognac says policymakers have taken note of these destabilizing effects.

"The level of priority that youth employment has been taking on the political agenda globally has never been higher than it is today," Cognac says. "We see the emergence of a great number of countries endorsing or developing youth employment action plans [or] strategies."

The ILO, OECD, and other organizations have called for policies specifically targeting young people, including government-backed jobs and training.

In France, the government has agreed on a nearly $3 billion program that will see the state finance most of the cost of 150,000 new jobs that officials hope to create over the next two years.

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.