A Generation at Risk: The Global Youth Unemployment Crisis

student protest

The world, according to the business leaders at Davos 2012, is “sitting on a social and economic time bomb:” global youth unemployment. Many leaders at the World Economic Forum’s meeting last year iterated that failing to employ the youth today amounts to a “cancer in society,” which not only affects economic growth now but will significantly stifle future growth. The figures have not improved since Davos 2012: as of last year  12.4 percent of people aged 15 to 24 worldwide were unemployed, which has increased to 12.6 percent in 2013. Now, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in a global labor force of 3.3 billion, some 200 million people are unemployed, 75 million of which are between the ages of 15 and 24.  ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013 report points out that the weakening of the global recovery in 2012 and 2013 has further aggravated the youth jobs crisis—youth unemployment increased by as much as 24.9 percent in the Developed Economies and European Union between 2008 and 2012. Both developed nations and emerging economies alike are struggling to create pathways to employment for their young citizens. Youth unemployment rates, which have continued to soar since 2008, are particularly high in three regions: Developed Economies and European Union, the Middle East, and North Africa. The lowest regional youth unemployment rates in 2012 were South Asia, with 9.3 percent, and East Asia at 9.5 percent. The highest were 28.3 percent in the Middle East and 23.7 percent in North Africa. In the advanced economies, the statistics are equally worrying.  In the European Union, the rate was at a 10-year high of 22.6 percent in 2012—with Greece at a staggering 54.2 percent and Spain at 52.4 percent—while  16.3 percent of the youth in the United States was unemployed.

Unemployment rates alone do not demonstrate the scale of the issue, given the 290 million young people more broadly classed as NEETs (not in education, employment or training). According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 14.8 percent  of young Americans were qualified as NEETs in the first quarter of 2011, while the figure was 13.2 percent in the European Union. In the OECD area as a whole, one in six young people were without a job and not in education or training. The proportion of young people neither working nor studying illustrates how well economies manage the transition between school and work, which has become particularly problematic in developed economies.

The skills mismatch in youth labor markets is an underlying cause of this persistent and growing trend. McKinsey, a global management consulting firm, reported that in the nine countries that it studied (America, Brazil, Britain, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) 40 percent of employers were struggling to find candidates with adequate skills for entry-level jobs. In contrast, almost 45 percent of young people said that their current jobs were not related to their studies, and of these more than half viewed their jobs as temporary and said they were planning to leave. Another survey by Accenture found that in the United States, 41 percent of college graduates from the last two years had to take jobs that do not require a degree. The skills mismatch shows that over-education and over-skilling coexist with under-education and under-skilling.  This is particularly the case in most developed economies, where the job market is split between high-paying jobs that most workers are not qualified for and low-paying, low-skill jobs that do not provide a sufficient income.

Many economists think that such a systemic mismatch requires policymakers to reform rigid labor markets and implement education policies that would close the gap between the world of education and world of work. Creating vocational and technical programs and forging stronger relations between future employers and future employees are seen as remedies to ease the school-to-work transition. Germany, where apprenticeships and vocational training have long been the norm, has the second lowest rate (8.2 percent) of youth unemployment in the European Union. Such training programs, backed by a certification system, would allow employees to have skills transferable across companies and industries. However, only less than a quarter of education-providers offer similar practical courses involving hands-on learning in the classroom or training on the job.

It is also unclear if similar training programs would produce similar results in other countries, given that Germany’s export-driven economy is characterized by high-tech manufacturing, which employs many highly-trained manual workers. Thus, determining country-specific needs will be crucial for employing wide-ranging and well-targeted reforms. The ILO suggests that some labor market policies, such as targeting the employment of disadvantaged youth, promoting self-employment to assist potential young entrepreneurs, and implementing international labor standards ensuring that young people receive equal treatment at work, are necessary to revamp youth labor markets across countries.  Without significant reforms, it is estimated that there will be a global shortfall of 85 million high- and middle-skill workers for the labor market by 2020.Unless bold reforms are undertaken, many fear that the economic and social costs of long-term unemployment, discouragement and pervasive low-quality jobs will not only continue to undermine the growth of many economies but will also put a whole generation at risk.

By: Sera Tolgay

Sources: BBC News, Huffington Post, International Labor Organization, The Economist, Time Magazine, CNN, Business Week

Photo Credit: Paris January 15th, 2009 Student Protest courtesy of Flicker user frog and onion

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The Challenge of a Changing China

chinaLower than expected growth numbers from China on Monday have raised worries that China’s economy may be losing momentum.  Forecasted to have a growth rate around 8%, China’s actual growth came in at a lesser 7.7% for the January to March quarter, compared with 7.9% in the previous three months. This slower growth is in part due to lagging recoveries in the US and Europe causing China’s exports to decline. However, it is important to note that major, if understated, structural changes within China’s own economy have also contributed to these unexpectedly low growth numbers.

Rapidly rising wages have led to a systemic shift in the way China’s economy currently operates and have caused the country to move away from its traditional reliance on low cost manufacturing. China is looking towards a transition to a more sustainable economic growth model and these numbers might be indicative of the growing pains that China is currently facing. In fact, according to Ms Yao of Societe Generale,”Given Beijing’s goal of restructuring the economy, a relatively moderate economic growth is not a bad thing in the longer term.” While China will likely remain a manufacturing hub thanks to its relatively mature investment environment, superior infrastructure, and skilled workforce, it is the higher-knowledge industry sector and domestic consumption that will be the future drivers of Chinese growth.

Improving wages and job opportunities have created an optimistic and vibrant consumer class that has demanded both a higher standard of living and higher quality goods and services. Metaphorically speaking, Chinese citizens are emerging from the factories and entering the malls. Rather than being a mere base of production, China has become a prime market to sell into as consumption continues to increase. This massive and complex market holds huge commercial potential for those businesses that can successfully adapt and gain a foothold. Meanwhile, China itself can benefit greatly from increased foreign direct investment as its economy continues to mature.

Despite China’s economic dynamism, it is still a place that is plagued with many dilemmas that limit its potential. Some of the most infamous issues revolve around corruption, which is especially rampant at the local level leading to staggering pollution, serious quality control issues, and enormous levels of inequality. In addition, China’s educational system is stunted by its singular focus on testing and needs to be reworked to foster creativity and innovation, skills that are vital in an increasingly connected global marketplace. These concerns may limit China’s global economic potential, especially when major policy efforts are still needed to address these critical domestic problems.

Overall, China is still dealing with the disorder commonly found during major economic transition. Its switch from a primarily manufacturing economy to a consumer economy may take time as growth rates begin to rebalance. In fact, it is likely that  these declining numbers indicate not economic problems in China, but an economic changing-of-the-guard that will result in less dramatic, healthier, and more reliable economic growth.

Posted by: Matthew Goldberg

Sources: The Economist, BBC News, Bloomberg, CME Group

Photo Credit: China Pavilion courtesy of flickr user Wojtek Gurak

Womenomics: Unlocking Women’s Not-So-Hidden Economic Potential

womenomicsIn the perpetual quest to improve economic growth and prosperity, leaders often ask questions such as: “How can we attract business to our shores?” “What can we do to raise export levels?” “How can we innovate to compete in the global economy?” While these questions are crucial to economic success, many developing and even some developed nations overlook an abundant and easily accessible driver of economic growth that makes up around half the world’s population: women.

Utilizing women to their full potential can play a crucial role in raising productivity and economic output. According to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report, women now represent 40 percent of the global labor force and more than half of the world’s university students. It seems obvious that allocating women’s skills and talents in activities that make the best use of those abilities will result in tangible economic benefits. In 1950, only one-third of American women of working age had a paid job. Yet today, US girls now do better at school than boys, more women are getting university degrees than men are, and females run some of the world’s best companies, such as PepsiCo, Archer Daniels Midland and W.L. Gore. Furthermore, a study by McKinsey found that when women went from holding 37 percent of all US jobs to nearly 48 percent over the past 40 years, the productivity gains associated with this modest increase accounted for approximately one-quarter of our current GDP. Undoubtedly, unlocking the economic potential of women has contributed to the sustained economic growth of the US over the last decades.

However, economies where women are not well integrated in the work force face significant disadvantages. This loss of productivity and economic duress is illustrated in the case of Japan, which has faced persistent economic stagnation. According to Kathy Matsui, chief Japan equity strategist and co-head of Asia Investment Research at Goldman Sachs, “Narrowing the gap between male and female employment rates, through increased participation of women in the labor market, could help Japan’s economy grow.” For example, 70% of Japanese women leave the workforce after their first child, and only 65% of college-educated women are employed. Barriers to higher female employment include insufficient childcare and nursing care support, tax distortions, and inadequate focus of the private and public sectors on diversity. It is no coincidence that Japan’s economy has struggled as women continue to be systemically underused.

Better enabling women to enter the labor force should be a key priority in nations looking to increase economic growth. The Economist reports that the increase in employment of women in developed countries during the past decade has added more to global growth than even the economic emergence of China. Therefore, it would serve countries well to eliminate obstacles that prevent women from entering the workforce and create programs that encourage the participation of women in the economy.

Posted by: Matthew Goldberg

Sources: The Economist, Goldman Sachs, World Bank, McKinsey, AARP International

Photo Credit: Woman working courtesy of flickr user SMU Central University Libraries

The Consequences of Underinvestment in Infrastructure

trafficTraffic jams may be the least of our worries according to a recent report released on Tuesday by the American Civil Society of Engineers. The report, entitled “Failure to Act,” focuses on the economic cost of continued underinvestment in our nation’s infrastructure. It estimates that by 2020, infrastructure woes could cost the U.S. 3.5 million jobs and a projected $3.1 trillion loss in GDP. Overall, according to the report, “The results show that deteriorating infrastructure, long known to be a public safety issue, has a cascading impact on the nation’s economy, negatively affecting business productivity, gross domestic product, employment, personal income and international competitiveness.” However, with an additional investment of $157 billion a year between now and 2020, the U.S. can eliminate this drag on economic growth.

Similarly, the San Francisco Federal Reserve has found that increasing federal highway grants can provide substantial economic benefits. The article states that highway grants led to a fiscal multiplier in which “each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state raises that state’s annual economic output by at least two dollars.”

While appropriate infrastructure spending is an essential part of economic growth and prosperity, Washington also must reign in its out-of-control deficit and focus on essential budget cuts. The current situation has made talks of spending across the board less likely. However, this tension between budget cuts and necessary spending is a thorny issue that must be addressed if the US is to maintain high level economic productivity.

Posted by: Matthew Goldberg

Sources: Reuters, American Society of Civil Engineers, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Photo Credit: New York City Traffic courtesy of flickr user Scott Mcleod

Don’t let U.S. science and technology go off the “cliff” — ACS

You are Invited: A Conversation with Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama: Economic Growth and Democratic Stability in Latin America

A Conversation with
His Excellency Ricardo Martinelli,
President of the Republic of Panama:
Economic Growth and Democratic Stability in Latin America


To RSVP acceptance or to receive further information, send an email to Maria-Stella Gatzoulis at maria-stella.gatzoulis@wilsoncenter.org.  Please provide your name and professional affiliation.
Please allow time on arrival at the building for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required.Individuals attending Woodrow Wilson Center events may be audiotaped, videotaped, or photographed during the course of a meeting, and by attending grant permission for their likenesses and the content of their comments, if any, to be broadcast, webcast, published, or otherwise reported or recorded.

Posted by: PAGE Staff

Addressing the Innovation Gap

According to a presentation by Robert Atkinson, President of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the United States is now ranked sixth out of forty countries in innovation-based competititveness.  In order to better understand this report, Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman invited three experts to discuss the implications of these findings and ways to reignite the American innovation machine in a program entitled, “Is America Suffering an Innovation Gap?

During the discussion Atkinson argued that in order to overcome this innovation gap, America needs to “focus laser-like on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.”  Michael Mandel, Editor-In-Chief of Visible Economy LLC, stressed that incremental innovations seen in some sectors of the economy will not be enough to drive economic growth.  Sheryl Schwartz, Chief Operating Officer of Blue Canopy Consulting, cited a number of examples of private sector programs which have bolstered innovation.  While Schwartz struck a more optimistic tone, she also urged the federal government to incentivize innovation and “set bold goals.”

Posted by: Monica Schager

Sources: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman

Photo Credit: Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman