The International Labor Organization is sounding the alarm about a global crisis in youth unemployment, which is worsening by the day. This crisis turns into a catastrophe in our region, which is affected disproportionately, as youth unemployment rates in the Middle East and North Africa are double the international rates.
The ILO expects the global crisis in youth employment to continue until 2016, at least, if nothing is done to actively deal with it.
This warning came in an ILO recent report (“Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012”). According to the report, unemployment rates for young people (15-24 years) are around 13 percent globally (12.7), but more than double that in the Middle East (26.5) and North Africa (27.9 percent).
GCC youth are also affected, despite the fact that their countries were spared the most severe effects of the global financial crisis. Although GCC economies have enjoyed healthy growth rates over the past several years, and as such have generated millions of new jobs, youth unemployment has been on the rise, as most of the new jobs went to non-GCC nationals, for a variety of reasons.
The world appears to be facing a worsening youth employment crisis: Young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults worldwide. As a result, it is estimated that there are 75 million unemployed youth (15-24 years) in 2012, which translates into a (12.7 percent) unemployment rate.
In addition, there are millions more who have given up looking for work; the ILO estimate those to be another (6.4) million, which would bring the unemployment rate to (13.7 percent) globally.
Those unrecorded youth or dropouts are not counted among the unemployed, yet they are in desperate need for work but are too discouraged to look any more. The ILO warns of a “scarred” generation of young job seekers and workers in both rich and poor countries.
This generation of young people has been called “Generation U” (for unemployed), the “Scarred Generation,” the “Disconnected” and the “Jobless Generation.” But whatever they are called, their future is grim.
These high rates of unemployment have been on the rise since 2007, but have especially escalated during the global financial crisis. Between 2002 and 2007, youth unemployment rates were declining, but that improvement was arrested in 2007 and then the global slowdown wiped out most of those gains, until we reached the current levels.
What is more alarming is that these rates are not expected to come down until at least 2016.
The ILO report also found out that in most regions, the crisis in youth employment has affected women more than men. The difference is most pronounced in the Middle East and North Africa.
Those young people who are lucky enough to find work face the problem of the quality of work conditions. As expected, as young people face growing challenges in finding employment, they become desperate to land any job. Consequently, many young people accept part-time or temporary work that does not match their education or expectations. In addition, their unemployment is frequently masked by continuing education or working informally without pay in family businesses or farms.
If the global unemployment rates for youth are so alarming, what could we say about youth unemployment in our region? As I mentioned earlier, youth unemployment rates are in the 27-28 percent range, or twice the global average, which should make us doubly alarmed and concerned as the rest of the world.
Already, most analysts have pointed out the fact that the Arab Spring was sparked by a crisis in youth employment. In Tunisia, where the first tremors were felt, unemployment was clearly a catalyst, as the Tunisian economy was in fact growing at healthy rates overall, but was unable to generate jobs to match the growth in youth population.
However, instead of solving the unemployment crisis, the turmoil accompanying the Arab Spring has increased youth unemployment. According to ILO estimates, about five percentage points were added to unemployment rates in the region between 2010 and 2011. In 2010, at the beginning of Arab Spring, youth unemployment levels were around 20 percent, compared to today’s levels of 27-28 percent.
Needless to say, youth unemployment is not only a serious economic problem, but a security and moral crisis as well. We are facing the risk of losing a whole generation to unemployment and its consequences: Despair, crime and drugs. As such, no expenses should be spared to deal with this crisis. Temporary solutions will only delay the day of reckoning.
To ease unemployment pressures, financial incentives to employers should be par for the course, as well enhanced targeted training to fill the skills gap, which limits young people’s employment prospects. As a start, administrative hurdles for employment of the young, especially women, should be eased to increase their chances of finding gainful employment. Job counseling and career guidance are essential to follow.
The writer is a columnist. The article was published in Arab News on May. 26, 2012