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Global Youth Unemployment Reaches Record Levels

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Image: James ParksThe global economic crisis has been especially bad for young workers. A new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that while youth unemployment has been steadily worsening for more than a decade, the economic crisis caused an explosive increase in the jobless rate for young workers. The report, issued late last week, kicked off the United Nations International Youth Year.

At the end of 2009, 81 million young workers between the ages of 15 and 24 around the world were unemployed—the highest number ever. The overall jobless rate for young workers globally is now 13 percent, the ILO says. Rising youth unemployment is compounded by some 152 million young “working poor” caught in extreme poverty.

In the United States, an AFL-CIO report, “Young Workers: A Lost Decade,” published last fall, showed a massive decline in the economic situation of young workers here over the past 10 years. Among other findings, the survey shows that one-third of young American workers cannot pay their bills.

This high and rising level of youth unemployment globally is a “social time-bomb” that risks damaging the social, economic and political fabric of countries around the world, says Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC):

An entire generation of young people is being left behind, and the consequences of this for society will be severe. Governments have to act urgently to get job-creation moving, by maintaining economic stimulus where it is needed rather than by cutting public expenditure.

Read the ILO report here.

Trade unions in the United States and around the world are pressing governments to adopt policies that focus on creating good jobs now. Burrow says we also must push for specific measures to improve the access of young people to decent jobs and quality education and training.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris


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