Will Record High Youth Unemployment Lead To A Lost Generation?

Our guest blogger is Sabina Dewan, Associate Director of International Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Dorian Gray sold his soul for eternal youth. If he had to make the choice all over again in today’s economy, would he do it? Youth – a term that generally embodies energy, opportunity and dynamism – these days seems to be more representative of a flagging global economy. And “austerity” and budget cuts for labor market programs around the world are only going to make a bad situation worse.

The International Labor Organization’s Global Employment Trends for Youth 2010 estimates that there are 620 million economically active young people aged 15-24 years worldwide, and that the unemployment rate for that age cohort rose from 11.9 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2009 and is expected to continue to rise through this year. There were 81 million youth unemployed at the end of 2009; this is 7.8 million higher than in 2007.

In the US, the average unemployment rate for young people aged 16-24 rose from 10.6 percent in 2007 to 17.6 percent in 2009. And as Pat Garofalo noted, being out of work for an extended period of time when you’re young can have lasting detrimental effects in terms of income, as each missed year of work translates into 2 to 3 percent less earnings for each subsequent year. College students who graduated during the 1982 recession were still earning less than students who graduated into a strong economy ten years later. As the Washington Post reported, “this might be the first generation that does not keep up with its parents’ standard of living.”

What’s more is that young people also constituted almost a quarter of the world’s working poor in 2008. As young people try to make their way into the labor market, many –- especially in developing countries — are subject to poor working conditions and precarious contracts with low pay. When there is widespread poverty and lack of opportunity, the growing number of disaffected youth is associated with an escalation of crime in urban areas, outbursts of ethnic violence, and political instability.

A faltering global recovery is raising real concerns about a double dip recession and the potential for a Japanese style “lost decade” in the US, but what’s worse is that all of this could come with a lost generation, as youth around the world struggle with record unemployment, underemployment and discouragement. This is something we can’t afford.

So if Dorian Gray had to make the choice all over again in today’s economy, would he do it again? Unless governments around the world rise to the challenge…hell no!