ILO Report Bewails Youth Unemployment and “Working Poverty”

Published on 31st October 2006

ADDIS ABABA (ILO News) – The number of young people aged 15 to 24 seeking jobs in sub-Saharan Africa continues to outpace the number of new jobs being created in the region, according to a new ILO report.


While the youth labour force in sub-Saharan Africa grew by 29.8 per cent, youth unemployment grew by 34.2 per cent in the region in the last ten years, according to “Global Employment Trends for Youth” published here today. At the same time, the youth labour force in North Africa and the Middle East grew by 32.2 per cent while youth unemployment grew by 18.2 per cent.


The regional figures follow the global trend in which the number of unemployed youth has risen by 14.8 per cent worldwide over the past decade to reach 85 million in 2005. What’s more, hundreds of millions more are stuck in working poverty, living on less than US$2 per day.


“Creating jobs for youth is not enough.” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia says. “Across the planet, youth are not only finding it difficult if not impossible to find jobs, but also they cannot find decent jobs…” 


The report also highlights the fact that since most youth in Africa cannot afford to be unemployed or inactive, they often wind up in the informal economy which provides the only outlet for those who are unable to find paid employment in the formal economy.


With 25.7 per cent, the regional unemployment rate was highest in North Africa and the Middle East, followed by non-EU states in Central and Eastern Europe at 19.9 per cent, and sub-Saharan Africa with 18.1 per cent, Latin America and the Caribbean (16.6 per cent), South-East Asia and the Pacific (15.8 per cent) and the developed economies and the European Union (13.1 per cent), South Asia (10 per cent) and East Asia (7.8 per cent). 


What’s more, these numbers only represent the tip of the iceberg. According to the report, the numbers of youth finding a job but continuing to live in poverty is even more alarming. The report shows that more than 300 million young people worldwide, or one out of two working youth belong to the youth “working poor “ living with their families on less than US$2 per day, per person. 


The situation is worst in sub-Saharan Africa, the only region where the total number of young workers living on less than US$1 per day has constantly increased in the past decade, rising from 36 million in 1995 to 45 million in 2005. Nearly six out of 10 working youth in sub-Saharan Africa still live in extreme poverty and only one in ten earns enough to lift themselves and their families above the US$2 per day poverty level.


 Without adequate access to the labour market allowing a good start in professional life, young people are less likely to make the right choices to improve their employment perspectives and those of their future descendants, says the report, adding that this perpetuates the cycle of insufficient education, low-productivity employment and working poverty.


The potential in the youth labour market depends partly on the demand for labour in general and partly on the extent to which young people are able to integrate into labour markets when demand for labour increases. A key challenge for realizing decent work for African youth is, therefore, to create an enabling environment for employment-intensive growth while at the same time implementing policies and operational programmes to help young people overcome the specific disadvantages they face in entering and remaining in the labour market.  


The report therefore stresses the urgency of the Ministers’ and Heads of Delegations’ call at the High-Level Segment of the 2006 Substantive Session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to “develop and implement strategies that give youth everywhere a real and equal opportunity to find full and productive employment and decent work.”


Global employment trends for youth, International Labour Office, Geneva, October 2006; see also

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