A Closer Look

NEET (Neither in Employment nor in Education or Training) – An indicator that is widely misunderstood and therefore misinterpreted

The share of youth which are neither in employment nor in education or training in the youth population (the so-called “NEET rate”) is a relatively new indicator, but one that is given increasing importance by international organizations and the media. The popularity of the “NEET” concept is associated with its assumed potential to address a broad array of vulnerabilities among youth, touching on issues of unemployment, early school leaving and labour market discouragement. These are all issues that warrant greater attention as young people continue to feel the aftermath of the economic crisis, particularly in advanced economies.

From a little known indicator aimed at focusing attention on the issue of school drop-out among teenagers in the early 2000s, the indicator has gained enough weight to be proposed as the sole youth-specific target for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 8 to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. Within the Goal, youth are identified in two proposed targets: (i) by 2030 achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value, and (ii) by 2020 substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET).

It is the author’s opinion that the NEET rate is an indicator that is widely misunderstood and therefore misinterpreted. The critique which follows is intended to point out some misconceptions so that the indicator can be framed around what it really measures, rather than what it does not. If the indicator is to be placed within the post-2015 SDG framework then a great deal of work remains to be done in educating policymakers, international organizations and the public as to what the NEETs mean. This analytical brief, based on an analysis of the recent School-to-work transition surveys (SWTS) from 28 low- and middle-income countries, hopes to contribute to a better understanding of this ambiguous indicator.

Furlong (2006) states that “the heterogeneity of NEET means that both research and policy must begin by disaggregating so as to be able to identify the distinct characteristics and needs of the various sub-groups”. Given the complexity of the concept and the resulting ease of misinterpretation, I remain concerned about the growing popularity of the NEET rate as an indicator. Would it not be better to hone in on three separate indicators that allow us to assess the primary issues of youth in the labour market more directly? To bring attention to those excluded from education, a useful indicator is the share of 15–19- year-olds who are neither in the labour force nor in education or training (NLFET (15– 19), aka inactive non-students). To bring attention to the issue of unemployment among youth, the unemployment rate is an easier indicator to understand, is more accessible and is defined according to international standards. Finally, to draw attention to the marginalization of the millions of youth working in poor quality employment, a quality of employment indicator is needed such as the vulnerable employment rate or informal employment rate.

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