A Portrait of the Youth Labor Market in 13 Countries, 1980-2007: A Relatively High Unemployment Rate for Young People Has Been a Persistent Problem in Industrialized Countries in Recent Decades; Still, the Number of Youths Who Are Unemployed Has Been Falling with Declining Youth Populations and More Years Spent in Education

By Martin, Gary | Monthly Labor Review, July 2009 | Go to article overview

A Portrait of the Youth Labor Market in 13 Countries, 1980-2007: A Relatively High Unemployment Rate for Young People Has Been a Persistent Problem in Industrialized Countries in Recent Decades; Still, the Number of Youths Who Are Unemployed Has Been Falling with Declining Youth Populations and More Years Spent in Education


Martin, Gary, Monthly Labor Review


In most industrialized countries, relatively high rates of joblessness among young persons have persisted for many years, although with considerable variation across the countries. In recent decades, the unemployment rate for persons under the age of 25 in France regularly has been greater than 20 percent, while in Italy it rose to more than 30 percent, and in Spain it has surpassed 40 percent. Germany and Japan had very low youth unemployment rates at the beginning of the 1980s--around 4 percent. However, more recently, even Germany, with its apprenticeship system, and Japan, with its close cooperation between schools and businesses, have had youth unemployment rates similar to those in the United States, in or near the 10-percent range. The box on this page presents the various definitions of "youth" in the countries examined in this article.

In the first years of the 21st century, youths in the United States experienced a small decline in unemployment rates, whereas their counterparts in Japan, France, Germany, and Sweden saw a sharp increase. Young people in Italy and Spain had very high unemployment rates throughout the 1980-2007 period. These trends generally follow the trends in each country's overall unemployment rate.

This article analyzes the youth unemployment picture in a selected group of industrialized countries over the 1980-2007 period. The data are primarily from a database compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and, with few exceptions, are annual averages based on national labor force surveys. In one case, Canada, BLS makes adjustments to the country's national data to enhance comparability with U.S. definitions. Besides allowing comparisons of unemployment by age group, the OECD database permits comparisons of labor force participation rates and of the proportion that young people constitute of unemployment, the labor force, and the population. In addition, the surveys provide statistics on the duration of unemployment by age group. The portrait of the youth labor market situation is filled in further with less widely available statistics--with regard to both time and place--on combining school and work, youth living arrangements, and job turnover rates. Finally, an indicator of "idleness" tracks trends and levels for the number of young people who are neither in school nor at work.

The topic of international comparisons of youth unemployment was last addressed in this Review in 1981, in an article that compared the experiences of nine advanced industrial countries from 1960 to 1979. (1) At the beginning of the 1960s, only the United States and Canada had double-digit youth unemployment rates. Italy soon joined the group, and by the end of the period Australia, France, and Great Britain also experienced rates of youth unemployment that reached two digits.

Of the four additional countries chosen for the current article--Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Korea (simply, Korea hereafter)--only Spain had youth unemployment rates in recent years higher than those in the United States. The relatively low youth unemployment rates of Ireland and the Netherlands are of recent vintage; rates in those countries were greater than 20 percent in the mid-1980s. Korea has had youth unemployment rates that fairly closely track those of the United States. The inclusion of these additional countries affords a greater perspective on the youth unemployment phenomenon in industrialized countries and also reflects the wide availability of comparable measures of unemployment compiled from periodic labor force surveys.

Data sources and comparability

We may generally rule out differences in definitions and measurement methods as an explanation for the sharply differing rates of youth unemployment among countries. Increasingly, statistical agencies are using a monthly or quarterly labor force survey to measure employment and unemployment. …

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A Portrait of the Youth Labor Market in 13 Countries, 1980-2007: A Relatively High Unemployment Rate for Young People Has Been a Persistent Problem in Industrialized Countries in Recent Decades; Still, the Number of Youths Who Are Unemployed Has Been Falling with Declining Youth Populations and More Years Spent in Education
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