National politics

Youth unemployment – the headlines mislead

We are hearing a lot about youth unemployment today after the latest ONS statistical release. The headline is 21.9% youth unemployment or 1.02 million people. These numbers are just statistical nonsense. If you are on unemployment make sure to review the texas unemployment benefits, so you can make sure to keep getting your benefits. They are also part of a decade long trend.

It is truly terrible that hundreds of thousands young people in this country are unemployed. I remember leaving school in 1980 and seeing many of my friends struggle to find jobs for years. I was lucky to work through my year off in 1980/1981 but still saw redundancies at the electronics business where I worked. I was doubly lucky to spend three years at university sheltering from the financial hardships of the early eighties.

The first thing that most people don’t know about these stats is that they are inflated by 40%, 286,000, by the “unemployed” youngsters who are in full-time education. The ONS bulletin says:

In accordance with international guidelines, people in full-time education are included in the youth unemployment estimates if they are looking for employment and are available to work. Excluding people in full-time education, there were 730,000 unemployed 16 to 24 year olds in the three months to September 2011, up 58,000 from the three months to June 2011. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds not in full-time education was 20.6 per cent of the economically active population, up 1.8 percentage points from the three months to June 2011.

The second thing that most people don’t know is that these numbers are 21.9% of non-students, not the total young population. It is not 1 in 5 young people who are unemployed as we keep being told. It is 1 in 5 of young people who are not in full-time education. The real youth unemployment rate is more like 12%. Not great but not quite as frightening as the almost 22% you might imagine.

This text from Eurostat explains:

Youth unemployment rates are generally much higher than unemployment rates for all ages. High youth unemployment rates do reflect the difficulties faced by young people in finding jobs. However, this does not necessarily mean that the group of unemployed persons aged between 15 and 24 is large because many young people are studying full-time and are therefore neither working nor looking for a job (so they are not part of the labour force which is used as the denominator for calculating the unemployment rate). For this reason, youth unemployment ratios use a slightly different concept: the unemployment ratio calculates the share of unemployed for the whole population.

It is really interesting to see how Eurostat’s 2010 youth unemployment rates translate in unemployment ratios. Suddenly countries such as France, Italy and Portugal which seem like disasters from a youth unemployment view look much better when you look at the ratio.

The third thing that most people don’t know is that youth unemployment on this measure bottomed out in 2001. Currently youth unemployment on this measure is 80% odd higher than its best. It has taken 10 years to get here.

You can see from the Eurostat figures that different approaches to education significantly change the youth unemployment ratio. It looks like in the UK we have a deep seated problem caused by our parlous education, education, education system. It isn’t the economy stupid. In other words youth unemployment looks to be a structural rather than a cyclical problem.

5 replies on “Youth unemployment – the headlines mislead”

Miltion Friedman said the minimum wage increased youth unemployment in the USA.

Labour introduced a UK minimum wage in 1999.


Thanks for the info. Not a good time for our young people but why don’t I see this explained elsewhere? Not on BBC, Sky, MSM generally.


“1 in 5 of young people who are not in full-time education. The real youth unemployment rate is more like 12%.”

There will also be quite a lot of young people who are technically working but in part-time jobs which barely cover their rent. I know people who can only find two days work a week and consider themselves lucky to have that. So many jobs out there right now are temporary, part-time, maternity leave etc – either not secure or hardly covering the bills. Meanwhile rents and food prices etc are not going down.



I am not trying to minimise youth unemployment. I am trying to understand it.

One un-employed young person is one too many and I know how hard it is to get established in life – I didn’t really achieve it until well into my twenties.

Security is in many ways illusory. The main thing is that the largest possible number of people are well equipped to do a range of things and to keep on taking on new skills throughout their lives.

The charts show that youth unemployment never fell below 500,000 in the best of times. We have an irreducible core of young people who either don’t want to work or are incapable of competing with the millions of foreign-born workers we have sucked into this country’s labour market in the last 15 or so years.

The point I was trying to make is that youth unemployment isn’t mainly caused by the recession, financial uncertainty and the cuts. It is isn’t cyclical. It is caused by having a large group of people who can’t compete. It is structural.

I remember staying in Germany with family friends about ten years ago. On a night out my hosts made an unkind joke about one of their contemporaries who was waitressing. The joke was that she had a qualification in waitressing. The girl had been prepared for the labour and was in work. Although she was the butt of her brighter contemporaries’ jokes she had not been replaced by foreign worker. There is a lesson there I think.


I disagree that the recession and cuts have nothing to do with it. Back in 2000-2005 I was able to find jobs easily, even up in Yorkshire where I lived for some of that time. There were plenty of jobs to choose between and lots of full-time, permanent jobs. There seem to be less of those now. I have talked to recruiters who tell me employers are increasingly only offering part-time or temporary positions because due to the recession they’re not in the position to take on the risk of a full-time employee.

This Guardian article yesterday ( says “People between 16 and 24 are twice as likely as the rest of the workforce to be in involuntary part-time or temporary jobs.” Unless they’re able to live with their parents, which not all of us are, that’s a pretty scary position to be in when it comes to paying the rent.

Nothing wrong with hairdressing at all. A walk round Ealing Broadway shows that hairdressers and phone shops seem to be retail winners at the moment. But we need employers to feel financially secure enough to offer waitresses and retail staff full-time, permanent jobs. And we need more training colleges for practical skills like plumbing, electricians, catering etc, and perhaps more classes in schools on how to get into these sorts of careers. I seem to remember having one careers session in high school and that was it.


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