Youth unemployment on the rise

Benjamin Disraeli once mentioned that the “youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity”. Given an international landscape whereby the international youth unemployment rate is reported to be high and has been fluctuating in a relatively similar range for the past few years – 12.9% (2009) to 13.2% (estimate in 2019) – this situation poses a challenge with regard to the future that the younger generations could bring to society.

According to the standard United Nations (UN) description of youth, they are the “persons between the ages of 15 to 24 years, without prejudice to other definitions by Member States”. There are noted slight changes in the age bracket depending on the country’s cultural, institutional and political factors. Moreover, the working definition of the International Labour Organization (ILO) for the concept of youth unemployment entails those individuals of working age who are without work during the time being (meaning that the person is neither in paid employment nor in self-employment) but are available for work, and have sought work (the person has actively taken steps in order to have paid employment or to be in self-employment situation).

In the latest report of ILO about youth unemployment entitled Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017, the said organization reported that the youth unemployment rate is on the rise again. Furthermore, the bleakness of the situation is aggravated by the fact that in spite of the young people being employed, they remain to be poor. Youth unemployment rates are observed to be higher than those of adult unemployment; specifically, the youth are three times to be likely unemployed than their adult counterparts. Some other interesting data could be found in the report:

  • Between 1997 and 2017, the youth population grew by 139 million people, while the youth labor force shrank by 34.9 million people.
  • The global youth labor force participation rate has declined in the past 20 years from 55.0 percent to 45.7 percent.
  • Globally, 70.9 million young people are estimated to be unemployed in 2017.
  • The youth unemployment rate is 13.1 percent globally in 2017 – and it is highest in the Arab States, at 30.0 percent.

Variations found in youth unemployment are closely intertwined with those observed in adult unemployment. Briefly, this means that variations in youth unemployment are directly related to the unemployment happening among the adults. This may mean for instance that if the young person stays in unemployment for a long time, there is a greater likelihood that the same individual will suffer this fate in his older years. The situation also implies that movements in youth unemployment rates are likely to vary more when there are also changes in economic conditions such as in recessions and booms.

Indeed, the ramifications of the 21st century that is heavily charged and futuristically driven by the promises of technology tend to exacerbate the volatility of the youth. Although technology has truly contributed massive kinds of transformation in the way people live right now such as expediting things in many ways, this is a source of worry for the future of youth employment. As early as late 1960s, the technologies have become progressively affordable that resulted in capital-labor substitution, and hence, affected the employment elasticity of growth. Former technological innovations replaced only repetitive tasks, but newer disruptive technological inventions are presently substituting far more complex tasks that include even non-routine and cognitive activities (Autor, 2015). In the latest report of ILO regarding youth employment trends, the emerging technologies that will configure the future of work are the Artificial Intelligence, robotics, internet of things, and 3D printing. And only time will tell if these newer forms of technologies are for the boon or for the bane of the youth.

On a more positive note, there are emerging new forms of employment for the youth. Due to the greater degree of connectedness that the Internet offers, younger people are seeing themselves working more from home. The trend now is to have crowd work, a set-up whereby the job is posted online and outsourced it to the “crowd” so to speak; there is no single employee doing the job at hand.

To address society’s predicament on youth unemployment, it is not enough to just entrust the situation to the natural course of the unfolding of events. Various stakeholders – from the public sector, private industry, and civil society – ought to synergize in order to predict future job trends, anticipate threats, and amidst them, to prepare the younger generations and make room for opportunities for them. Through the policies and programs that are created, innovations in the youth labor market are introduced and thereafter institutionalized. These are all crucial in helping the young people stand tall in the midst of fast-changing societies.

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