Yet the developing countries are home to 87 per cent of the world’s youth, who are often underemployed and working in the informal economy under poor conditions. The core challenge for these countries is to not only generate new employment opportunities for young people, but to also improve the quality of all jobs available to them.
In the Middle East and North Africa, a region which has made progress in educational levels among girls and boys, approximately 25 per cent of young people of working age are unemployed (ibid., p. 10). It is important to note that in low-income economies, young people have limited or no social safety nets on which to fall back, so that few young people can afford to stay out of work. For this reason, the unemployment rate does not capture the full extent of difficulties facing young people in developing economies, where youth are more likely to accept any job.
Youth unemployment has continued to worsen in the developed economies, where rates were higher in 2009 than at any time since measurement began in 1991 (ibid., p. 2). Several countries of the European Union saw record-high rates of youth employment in 2011: 48.9 per cent in Spain and 45.1 per cent Greece (European Commission, 2011). In November 2011, the number of unemployed youth in the United Kingdom reached a record high of 1 million (Allen, 2011). In some of these countries, long-term unemployment rates are far higher among youth than adults. Moreover, in the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 12.6 per cent of the youth population – representing 22.3 million young people – were inactive in the fourth quarter of 2010, neither in jobs nor in education or training, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to exclusion from the labour market (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2011).
A delayed transition from school to work – which may involve a period of unemployment or extended time in school – can have long-term adverse effects. Such a delay leads to erosion of skills, which may result cumulatively in lower life-time earnings. The longer youth remain disconnected, the more difficult it is to support their integration into the labour market. Yet, although temporary and part-time work can help young workers to enter the labour market, they also risk leading to persistent job insecurity. Similarly, a lack of decent work opportunities means that many young people, particularly in developing countries, end up working in low-paid and unsafe jobs which provide no prospects for development.
Young people in all regions are more likely than adults to be unemployed or to work in vulnerable employment. They are at greater risk of earning lower wages in a low-productivity job, working in unsafe or risky conditions, working below their skill or educational level, working long hours or fewer hours than needed, holding a temporary job, having few or no prospects for advancement and/or lacking job stability. Such disadvantages among youth in the work force also mean that many young workers lack bargaining power and are poorly positioned to organize towards improving their situation. Young women are particularly likely to be underemployed and in vulnerable jobs (International Labour Organization, 2010, pp. 17-23).
Despite important gains in education among young women, their employment outcomes continue to lag behind those of young men. Globally, in 2010, 56.3 per cent of young males participated in the labour force, against 40.8 per cent of young females (International Labour Organization, 2011b, p. 10). Where young women do participate in the labour market, they generally confront greater challenges in accessing jobs than do young men, i.e. they face higher unemployment compared to their male counterparts. When employed, they are also more likely to be in traditionally female occupations and unstable, part-time and lower-paid jobs. In several parts of the world, there remain significant gaps between young men’s and young women’s earnings. For instance, the hourly earnings of young women aged 15 to 24 are only 82 per cent and 84 per cent of men’s in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia and the Pacific, respectively. In some regions, however, young women are closing the wage gap with men faster than are older women due to their expanded access to educational opportunities over the last several years (World Bank, 2010). The recent economic crisis reduced the unemployment gap between young males and young females in most developed regions. In some of these countries, male-dominated industries were harder hit by the crisis (e.g. building construction).