Now over 1 million (more than 1 in 5); youth unemployment will make headlines this week –yet measuring the extent of joblessness amongst young people is a complex process. To begin with these figures include up to 300,000 full-time students recorded as looking for work, but, as is the case with unemployment statistics generally, they do not include those who have given up seeking work and are now classified as ‘economically inactive’. A recent report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows youth unemployment rates ranging from 43% in Spain to 8.9% in Germany, but also argues that ‘ growing frustration has pushed a large cohort of discouraged youth to drop out of the labour market altogether’. Include these and youth unemployment in the UK could be approaching one-in-three 18-24 year olds who are not in full-time education
Neither are there reliable figures on the extent of youth ‘underemployment’, although surveys suggest that as many as 30% of graduates report they are in jobs that don’t require skill levels concurrent with their educational qualifications. In other words, while youth unemployment continues to be disproportionately high amongst those without or with few qualifications, it is just as likely that, rather than unskilled jobs disappearing, they continue to be filled by those with more than enough qualifications to do them.
The Coalition ended the Labour government’s Future Jobs Fund because it was too ‘bureaucratic’ but they have no specific strategies for responding to youth unemployment; only the Work Programme where private contractors compete to find unemployed people jobs and are ‘paid by results’. In a different economic climate where employers were desperate to recruit, there may be some merit in this, but without jobs being available in the first place, young people may wait months, even years, before they find proper employment.
With the economy not only faltering but now also facing another recession, eminent economist David Blanchflower, who as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee persistently argued for interest rate cuts before the last recession started, has called for 100,000 more university places on the grounds that ‘You’re getting people into university and getting them off the streets.’ (THE 09/11/11)
As well as increasing the likelihood of educational institutions becoming car parks or warehouses, Blanchflower’s proposals are also based on the assumption that there will continue to be a shortage of university places. With up to £9,000 a year fees to pay back we cannot assume this will be the case. Evidence suggests that many of the 200,000 unsuccessful applicants withdrew from clearing last year because they weren’t able to find places in Russell or campus universities considered more likely to be able to deliver in the jobs race.
One thing increasingly clear is that many young people considering the ‘apprenticeship’ route into work will likely think again – unless they are able to gain a place at BT or Rolls Royce which even Education Secretary Michael Gove admits ‘are harder to get into than Oxford’. Coalition ministers now have egg on their faces over claims that they have already met their targets for creating additional apprenticeship places. Reports leaked to newspapers and independent research from the Institute for Public Policy Research shows just 10 per cent of apprenticeships are going to youngsters aged 16 to 18. Instead, around 40 per cent go to people over the age of 25 while those going to workers over 60 have increased nearly tenfold. There’s also clear evidence employers are simply repackaging existing jobs and claiming the money.
Even in more prosperous times, youth unemployment has been higher than for the population as a whole. With government downgrading growth forecasts, in response to the Eurozone crisis, the situation facing young people is bleak.