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UN labor report shows drastic increase in youth unemployment

The International Labor Organization says global youth unemployment has reached record levels. Over 80 million 15 to 24-year-olds are without work, the report said, with increases in developed countries most extreme.

Young men lounge on a bench on a street

More young people around the world are unemployed

According to a United Nations report released on Thursday, labor market trends for young people have taken a drastic turn for the worse since 2007, when global youth unemployment remained fairly stagnant.

For the 10 years prior to the economic crisis, the report noted the number of unemployed youth around the world had increased by an average of 200,000 per year. In 2009, however, youth unemployment increased by a staggering 6.7 million.

Sara Elder, an economist with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and co-author of the report, says youth unemployment is most severe in the developed economies and non-EU, central and southeastern Europe.

"In these two regions alone, we saw the highest annual increases that we have ever seen for any region since we began observing the trend in 1991. Overall, the youth unemployment rate of 17.7 percent in developed economies also marks the highest we have ever seen," Elder told Deutsche Welle.

EU governments looking to fend off hopelessness

The report finds young women are hardest hit by unemployment in most regions. The only exceptions are in the developed economies and the European Union, where nearly twice as many males as females are unemployed.

A electronics engineer trainee at work in Germany

Germany's apprentice system keeps most youths busy

In the European Union, Germany displayed the lowest rate of youth unemployment. Around 8 percent of all Germans between 16 and 24 looking for a job are out of work. This is based most of all on the country's apprentice system, in which companies offer three-year training positions to young Germans regardless of education level.

This is a great contrast to the situation in other EU states such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which according to the ILO report had the highest rates of youth unemployment in the 27-nation bloc.

In other developed EU countries, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, Elder said many unemployed youth have become so discouraged that they are no longer even looking for work.

"Governments everywhere are struggling to prevent a situation in which young people detach themselves completely from the labor market, having lost all hope of being able to provide themselves with a decent living. Unemployment is more a concern for developed economies than developing economies," she said.

Drastic unemployment in developing countries

While only 10 percent of the global youth labor force lives in developed economies, youth unemployment there increased by 45 percent last year.

A child carrying sticks in Sierre Leone

Unofficial jobs are most common in developing nations

The report added that roughly 90 percent of the world's young people are living in developing countries - where under-employment and poverty are two of the most prevalent and serious problems.

Steven Kapsos, an ILO economist and also a co-author of the report, told Deutsche Welle that unemployed young people in developing countries don't receive any benefits. Thus, they are left with no choice: "They are forced by necessity to work in the informal economy, where they will most likely remain for the rest of their lives."

"We estimate that 152 million youth were classified as working 'poor' in 2008 and that is based on the standard international poverty line of $1.25 (0.77 euro) per day. This accounts for some 28 percent of all young workers around the world," Kapsos added.

The ILO, meanwhile, forecasts slight improvements in youth unemployment for almost all of the world's regions next year.

The largest decrease in youth unemployment is expected in central and southeastern Europe and the states formerly belonging to the Soviet Union.

Author: Lisa Schlein/glb
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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