Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Youth unemployment major lag on human development, UN report says

New study outlines changes to nature of work amid technological innovation, globalization

Although technological change and globalization have boosted employment and as a result lifted human development levels for people on many continents, a substantial percentage of global youths remain mired in unemployment, a new United Nations report reveals.

Half the world’s population is under 30, but there’s often a mismatch between skill levels and available economic opportunities, says the 2015 human development report by the United Nations Development Program. With aging societies and ballooning numbers of young people, many job markets fail to keep up.

The youth-to-adult unemployment ratio is dangerously high, the report said, emphasizing the Arab region as well as Southern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the Middle East and North Africa, youth unemployment is 3.8 times and 3.3 times the adult rates in those regions, respectively, according to the International Labor Organization. 

Worldwide, 74 million young people (ages 15 to 24) are among the 200 million unemployed — a fact that has a profound effect on regions where the issue is most acute.

Arab world’s demographic woes

In the Arab world, with the highest youth unemployment rate globally, at about 29 percent, “insufficient numbers of jobs are being created for the increasingly educated workforce,” said the report.

Egypt, the prime example of this trend, produced 5 million new college graduates from 1996 to 2005. Yet only 1.8 million skill-intensive service sector jobs were created, according to the report. While some of those graduates are highly skilled and may find opportunities around the world in engineering, finance or business, many find there is no link between their university education and available employment slots.

“Expanding sustainable employment opportunities for all, especially women and youth, will be key as the region seeks to build resilience and achieve sustainable development progress,” said Sima Bahous, the director of the development program’s bureau for Arab states.

Moreover, the pressure on urban infrastructure intensifies with large numbers in search of new work options. “If you look at younger people in rural areas, many have [just] primary education,” said Selim Jahan, the director of the U.N. human development report office and the study’s lead author. They are not interested “in the activities their fathers and forefathers engaged, [thus] end up in the informal sector, working but not provided with a good salary.”

Additionally, with people living longer and staying more active as they age, there is often a blockage for those seeking to enter the labor force. Even in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, with cushy government benefits, the youth unemployment rate hovers just below 30 percent. Despite islands of growth in many natural-resource-rich countries, national employment strategies often fall short of growth targets.

Europe: Severe economic state

Experiencing essentially the opposite of the Arab world, Europe’s developed countries have seen “the exhaustion of the demographic dividend,” in which there are not enough working young people to sustain generous welfare states supporting growing elderly populations, the report said.

But especially in the wake of the Great Recession, youth unemployment in some areas of Southern Europe is cripplingly high. The 2014 youth unemployment rate in Italy was 3.4 times its adult unemployment rate, with youth unemployment in Spain hitting 53 percent. 

Jahan said the most shocking aspect of the economic crisis in many Southern European states was the large percentage of young people who are “not in employment, education or training.” Those young people are “not pursuing any kind of jobs, doing nothing in a sense,” he said. “And additional schooling is not going to take them anywhere, [with] no jobs available.”

Even with children healthier and better educated than their parents, a generation with half its members economically inactive is untenable. The report mentions two notable consequences: limited contributions to retirement programs and potentially a lost generation of workers in the long term. Many simply make do with temporary work.

Beyond Europe and the Mediterranean basin, human development problems undoubtedly loom larger. “Developing countries face many of the same issues but have to employ even more young people,” concluded the report, “absorbing not just the highly skilled and technologically savvy but also the growing bulge of young people with fewer skills.”

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter