The Challenge of Youth Unemployment

7.1 billion

Global Population1

202 million

People Unemployed3

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Youth make up 17% of the world's population.

There are 1.2 billion youth in the world aged between 15 and 24. 87% of youth live in developing countries.2

Youth make up 40% of the world's unemployed.4

  • Global Adult Unemployment Rate 5
  • Global Youth Unemployment Rate 5
In 2011, a youth's risk of being unemployed was 3x higher than that of an adult.5

Close to 75 million youth worldwide were unemployed in 2012. Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the highest youth unemployment rate, with about one youth in four without a job.5

North America6


European Union6


Central & Southeastern Europe (non-EU) & CIS5


East Asia5


SE Asia and Pacific5


South Asia5


Latin America & Caribbean5


Middle East5


North Africa5


Sub-Saharan Africa5



Global Youth Unemployment Rate

A total of 357.7 million youth were not in education, employment, or training (NEET) in 2010, and the number is increasing.7, 8



in Developed Countries



in Developing Countries

East Asia and Pacific

119.4 Million

Europe and Central Asia

27.6 Million

Latin America & Caribbean

21.2 Million

Middle East and North Africa

27 Million

South Asia

101.1 Million

Sub-Saharan Africa

44.7 Million

Also in 2010, 536 million of employed youth in developing countries were underemployed, compared with 1.5 million in the 27 EU countries.7, 9



in 27 EU countries



in Developing Countries

East Asia and Pacific

150 Million

Europe and Central Asia

18 Million

Latin America & Caribbean

29 Million

Middle East and North Africa

40 Million

South Asia

152 Million

Sub-Saharan Africa

147 Million

Causes of Youth Unemployment

Quality and Relevance of Education

Education is often not adequately tailored to the needs of the labour market, which means that firms are unable to hire the skills they need. Combined with the inability of many economies to create sufficient jobs, it has resulted in increasing the educated unemployed.10, 5

Education is the key to a decent job.

“In 2010, in 25 out of 27 developed countries, the highest unemployment rate was among people with primary education or less.”11

...yet high education does not guarantee a decent job.

In Tunisia, 40% of university graduates are unemployed against 24% of non-graduates.12

Highly educated young females are increasingly vulnerable in some countries.

“In Turkey, the unemployment rate among university educated women is more than 3 times higher than that of university educated men; in Iran and the United Arab Emirates, it is nearly 3 times; and in Saudi Arabia, it is 8 times.”13

  • Population Growth
  • Economic Crisis
  • Discouraged Youth
  • Lack of National Comprehensive Policy Framework
  • Deficiencies of Labour Market Institution and Policies

High population growth rates, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-saharan Africa, have increased the number of youth entering the labour market.14

population in the arab countries in

    • 1
    • 2
    • 8
    • million

During economic downturn, youth employees are not only the “last in” but also the “first out”, since it is more costly for employees to lay off older workers. Youth workers are less likely to have had company training, have fewer skills, and are often on a temporary contract.2, 5

number of unemployed youths per year

  • 100,000

More than 6 million youths have given up looking for a job.16

Prolonged unemployment entails higher risk of future unemployment, as prospective employers have negative perception of youth who have been without employment for a long period of time. Discouraged youth gave up looking for work altogether and are in danger of feeling useless and alienated from society.5

The priority given to youth unemployment is on the rise in 138 countries. However, only 35 countries have adopted action plans and only 4 countries have identified a budget in their national employment policies for the implementation of youth employment priorities.17

In general, a high level of employment protection regulation can have an adverse effect on youth workers as firms would rather hire more experienced workers if they are less able to fire them during a downturn. Strong increases in minimum wages have been argued by some as having a negative impact on employment of youth.10

Youth Underemployment

Less than


600 million

Jobs are needed

Even when youth are employed, they may not be in good jobs. In the developed world they are often on temporary contracts to make it easier to lay them off, or they are "underemployed" in jobs below their qualifications.

In the developing world, low levels of education, the lack of job creation and insufficient social protection means that many youth are also under-employed, engaged in low-income self-employment, informal jobs or unpaid work.

1.52 billion people – seven times more the number of unemployed – are estimated to be invulnerable employment in 2011.19

32% of young employees were on temporary contracts in 2011, compared to 8.9% of adults.18

In 2010, 42.1% of young people in the 27 EU countries were working in temporary jobs, while 47% of youth in sub-Saharan Africa were unpaid workers.16

Youth in developing countries account for 23.5% of the working poor.18

“More than 200 million youth are working-poor, earning under US$ 2 a day, mostly employed in the informal sectors of developing countries”16

An increasing percentage of young workers in developed countries are being forced into part-time jobs.

youths employed part-time in in the EU4

  • 25.6%

600 million jobs need to be created over the next decade.19

Solutions to Youth Unemployment

The Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment is advancing solutions to improve youth employment and entrepreneurship in three dimensions: Innovations to scale, Implementation at the national level and Inspiration through a global campaign.

1. Scaleable innovations to secure first employment

Committed to developing and testing scaleable innovations that allow youth to get their first jobs or become successful young entrepreneurs, the Ten Youth Mentoring and Apprenticeship Programme encourages companies to invest in "M&A" (Mentoring and Apprenticeship) support for first-time hires, and provides concrete tools for this.

Building on its first pilots in the United States and Nigeria, Youth Trade connects young entrepreneurs with markets for their products, thereby addressing a key obstacle for young entrepreneurs – lack of access to markets.

2. National youth employment strategies

More countries around the world need to implement national youth employment strategies that demonstrate a shared vision, clear objectives and metrics for success, supported by resources that will significantly and tangibly increase youth employment. The Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment is committed to developing such a strategy in Cambodia and countries in Africa over the coming year.

3. Global campaign – an EYE opener

Youth unemployment affects developed and developing countries alike. As awareness of and information on the global impact of youth unemployment are rising, it is more urgent than ever for global decision-makers to take inspired, comprehensive, coordinated action to make youth employment a national priority.

The Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment is launching the Eye on Youth Employment campaign. EYE will bring policy recommendations and proven solutions to the attention of business, government and civil society leaders, urging concerted action to help move millions of skilled youth into jobs and create new employment through business creation and opportunities for self-employment.

Works Cited

  1. 2012 World Population Data Sheet. 2012. Washington, D.C.: Population Reference Bureau.
  2. “UN World Youth Report 2012”. The UN Focal Point for Youth, 2012.
  3. World of Work Report 2012. April, 2012. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  4. Working with Youth: Adressing the Youth Employment Challenge. May, 2012. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  5. Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012. May, 2012. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  6. Fast Fact on Youth Employment Challenges. 2012. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  7. World Bank. Youth Employment in the Developing World – A profile: Data from World Bank Micro Surveys. mimeo. 2012. Washington D.C: World Bank.
  8. “Off to a Good Start? Jobs for Youth”. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010.
  9. De La Fuente, A. “85 Million Underemployed Part-time Workers in the EU-27 in 2010”. Eurostat, 2011.
  10. Gomez-Salvador, R and Leiner-Killinger, N. An Analysis of Youth Unemployment in the Euro Area. Frankfurt: European Central Bank, 2008.
  11. Key Indicators of the Labour Market 7th Edition. 2011. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  12. Fraser, E. “Helpdesk Research Report: Youth Unemployment and Livelihoods”. Government and Social Development Resource Centre, 2011.
  13. Roudi, F. Youth Population and Employment in the Middle East and North Africa: Opportunity or Challenge? United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Adolescents, Youth and Development, New York, 21-22 July 2011.
  14. Global Employment Trends for Youth 2010. August, 2010. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  15. Mirkin, B. Population Levels, Trends and Policies in the Arab Region: Challenges and Opportunities. New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2010.
  16. The Youth Employment Crisis: A Call for Action; Resolution and Conclusions of the 101st Session of the International Labour Conference. 2012. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  17. The Youth Employment Crisis: Highlights of the 2012 ILC report. 2012. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
  18. “Temporary, Part-time Jobs: A Trap for Youth?” International Labour Organization, 2012.
  19. Global Employment Trends 2012: Preventing A Deeper Jobs Crisis. 2012. Geneva: International Labour Organization.

Council Members

For more information on the Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment, please contact

Special thanks to Navitri Putri Guillaume, Community Manager, Risk Response Network - World Economic Forum

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