Record youth unemployment raises fears of a 'lost generation'

Eighty-one million young people were out of work last year, the most ever according to the International Labour Organisation, a situation that could "undermine social stability".

GENEVA // Youth unemployment hit a record 81 million youngsters worldwide last year with the economic crisis, potentially breeding a "lost generation," the International Labour Organisation said. The youth unemployment rate grew twice as fast as for adults, by 1.1 percentage points in two years to affect 13 percent of 15 to 24 year-olds in the global labour force in 2009, an ILO report found. "This is the highest number of global unemployed youth ever measured by the ILO," said Sarah Elder, author of "Global Employment Trends", adding that the growth was also unprecedented. Nearly 73 million youngsters were out of work in 2007. The report warned that, despite a marginal improvement forecast for 2011, the recovery in the jobs market for young men and women is likely to lag behind opportunities for adults. "Young people are the drivers of economic development," said ILO Director General Juan Somavia. "Foregoing this potential is an economic waste and can undermine social stability," he added in a statement. The authors underlined that decent education and skills were less likely to open up job opportunities for youth than before, while pay and working conditions for those who found work had suffered, leaving "permanent scars." "They're doing all the right things and the doors close in their face," Elder told journalists. The report found evidence that some young people were so discouraged that they were dropping out of the labour market in developed and some emerging nations. "Fears have been expressed regarding a possible crisis legacy of a 'lost generation' made up of young people who detach themselves from the labour market altogether," it said. Developing nations account for 90 percent of the world's population of young people, who are more vulnerable to underemployment and poverty in the informal economy, according to the UN labour agency. About 152 million young people - 28 percent of the world's youth working population - work but never earn enough to break out of the poverty trap. Nonetheless, the report estimated that 45 percent of the increase in youth unemployment during the two-year period under review hit developed economies, which only host 10 percent of the global youth labour force. Central, eastern and southern Europe suffered the most, notably Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Spain. In the United States, youth unemployment rose by eight percentage points to 18 percent over the period. The UN labour agency urged governments to keep up support for youth employment despite post crisis cuts in public spending, while Elder warned of "dire consequences" for youngsters if stimulus spending was stopped too early. * Agence France-Presse