UN group: Vast numbers of unemployed youth threaten global stability

UN group: Vast numbers of unemployed youth threaten global stability

Young Greeks face tear gas at a protest in Athens, December 2008. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/42632457@N00/3098761766/">How Will I Ever (Flickr)</a>
Young Greeks face tear gas at a protest in Athens, December 2008. Photo: How Will I Ever (Flickr)

The swelling ranks of unemployed youth threaten to create a lost generation that endangers the global economic system, a new report warns.

The world's 75 million unemployed youth are dangerously concentrated, increasingly connected and more numerous than ever, the International Labor Organization found last month. To protect international security, the ILO suggested, the world's governments must prioritize creating jobs for their young citizens. Seeing a meaningful future in which they can provide for themselves and their families is absolutely necessary for youth to feel they have a stake in security and stability.

That 75 million figure was so staggering that the ILO has now made youth employment one of its top priorities. For countries, non-profit organizations and companies, if facing this problem is not already a priority, the vast number of unemployed youth will soon make it one.

With 50 percent of the global population under 27, issues facing youth are everyone’s issues. Of the 200 million unemployed around the world, 40 percent are youth. The OECD and ILO have also published regional numbers, defining "youth" as those between their mid-teens and mid-twenties. The youth bulge in the Middle East, where youth unemployment has reached almost 25 percent, has been highly publicized since the advent of the Arab Spring. Seemingly huge, it's just one microcosm of a much larger, complex problem. In Europe, certain countries are doing okay, like Norway and Germany with just over 7 percent youth unemployment. Yet others, most notably Spain and Greece, have reached youth unemployment levels of over 50 percent. In the United States, 35 percent of youth between ages 20 and 24 are unemployed. In South Asia and Latin America, the unemployment rate sits around 15 percent. East Asia’s youth unemployment rates are the lowest around the world at just above 9 percent, but most young people with jobs work in poverty.

It's a formula for trouble.

"When people living on the brink lose their livelihoods, they are more likely to turn to arms—either because they are angry at perceived injustice, or because they see few other options and feel they have little to lose," The Council on Foreign Relations' Terra Lawson-Remer wrote last month.

Examples of the violence and hostility that arise from frustrated youth are front-page stories, from the Arab Spring and the riots in Greece to Central American youth turning to drug cartels for work. Security and stability are compromised in all these locations as youth reach the point of desperation.

What youth need now isn't just jobs, but quality jobs. For an overqualified employee, sitting on an assembly line for pennies doesn't cut it. While the number of youth unemployed is staggering, the number of youth in working poverty is also quite staggering. "There are by far more young people around the world that are stuck in circumstances of working poverty than are without work or looking for work," the ILO claims. While the underemployed have a source of income, it's not enough to sustain themselves or others. Those who are so frustrated that they stop looking for work skew the numbers further because they aren't counted in official surveys.

The real number of jobs needed for youth? Far more than 75 million.

Finding good jobs is easier said than done. Governments, non-profit organizations and companies need to create job-friendly environments, which starts with quality education, mentorship and training targeted at growth sectors. In many areas job vacancies exist, but the skills needed are not taught in schools.

"Many private schools have career fairs or a career counselor, but most public schools do not, so students lack this guidance," said Diala, a 19-year-old Lebanese international affairs major and Global Citizen Corps participant. "Lebanon suffers from a misallocation between the college majors students choose and the jobs available."

In Africa, mid-level managers are in demand, but education opportunities have to catch up so applicants possess necessary skills. According to the African Economic Outlook report, the continent is experiencing jobless growth. "In rural areas especially, better education in agriculture and new technologies would help address mismatches between the skills demanded by firms and those learned by young people," the report noted.

"We have huge percent of people educated with a college degree but who can't find a job. If they do, it often pays less than it should for the skills required," said Khaled, a 21-year-old Global Citizen Corps participant and Tunisian engineering student.

Starting new, homegrown businesses in many of these unstable regions would create jobs and plant the roots needed for outside investment. International investors often shy away from betting on countries that frequently appear on headline news for instability, but when entrepreneurial and business management training is available, along with mentorship, local businesses can tell a different narrative. The Middle East has a technology sector with exploding potential, and companies like Google are starting to take note.

Another complex challenge to building a business-friendly ecosystem is government regulation and taxation. In many countries, business start-up regulations and loan policies make the process difficult, if not impossible, especially for young people. Governments must simplify and streamline policies for starting business, and let small business owners keep profits. Reforming tax policies so they are transparent and fair would go far in advancing private sector investment and innovation.

"It's universal, all young people want to succeed and they want to move upwards," Noreen, an unemployed Asian youth, told the BBC. "Any society or economy where there is no room to move upwards, young people get frustrated."

Simple solutions may not exist, but all signs point toward changing course to attain any hope of peace, development and security. Slowing the global swell of unemployed youth would create a "found" generation: young people with passion, energy, new ideas and a stake in their future. We have no choice but to get it right.

RELATED: Choosing opportunity over violence, Mercy Corps' youth employment project in Kenya, called "Yes Youth Can!"
RELATED: Turning the Arab Spring opinions into data—and change, The Christian Science Monitor via Global Envision

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