Europe’s young people are suffering disproportionately in the economic crisis and we must do more to prevent them from becoming ‘a lost generation’ – says think-tank
Youth unemployment rates in some European Union countries are scandalously high. Many member states are hoping to copy the success of the German apprenticeship system. Although nations should be encouraged to learn from each other, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the job crisis. And many measures will not bite until growth returns. Unemployment among young people has always been higher than general joblessness but the economic crisis has widened the gap further. According to Eurostat, 22 per cent of 15-24 year-olds in the EU are unemployed. In those countries hardest hit by the crisis, such as Greece and Spain, the rate is 50 per cent.
Such figures are shocking but also somewhat misleading. Just like general unemployment statistics, youth unemployment is measured as the share of job-seeking youngsters in all youngsters who are either working or looking for work. But many young people do neither. Millions are in education. Many have simply given up looking for a job. These groups are not captured in youth unemployment statistics, which pushes up the youth unemployment rate. A more accurate indicator of the youth employment crisis is the NEET concept – the total of young people not in employment, education or training.
Last year, Europe had 7.5 million NEETs aged 15 to 24. Extend the age bracket to 29 and the number swells to 14 million – the equivalent of 15 per cent of all young people in the EU. And NEET rates are highest among the South and East European EU countries and lowest in the Nordics, Germany and the Netherlands. In Greece and Bulgaria, almost a quarter of all under 30s are NEET. In Austria and the Netherlands, it is only 5 to 8 per cent. The United Kingdom – unusually for a country with a flexible labour market and decent education – has one million NEETs, roughly the same as Italy and Spain. Because of its bigger and younger population, the British NEET rate – at around 16 per cent – is still below those of Italy and Spain, at just over 20 per cent.
The NEETs are a big burden for European countries. According to Eurofound – a research agency that looks at work and welfare – they cost member states €153bn in social benefits and lost output in 2011. That is more than the entire EU budget. More importantly, a prolonged inactive period can scar youngsters for life. Many a NEET’s earnings will never catch up with their peers; many face long-term unemployment and social problems. Some economists already talk of a ‘lost generation’.
Choosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor from