Young people have been particularly vulnerable to becoming unemployed in this prolonged recession. A high proportion of those who are ripe for starting their career are left out of the labour market. Recent reports produced by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound)have analysed youth unemployment and factors associated with it, in particular by focusing on the NEET group of those who are ‘not in employment, education or training’. One of the reports, titled ‘Young people and NEETs in Europe: First findings’ aimed ‘to investigate the current situation of young people in Europe... and to understand the economic and social consequences of their disengagement from the labour market and education’. The other report with a title ‘Recent policy developments related to those not in employment, education and training (NEETs)’also analysed the factors that make young people vulnerable to becoming unemployed analysed ‘the most recent NEET-specific policy interventions in the EU Member States and Norway’. The following paragraphs summarise some of the conclusions made in these reports.
Definition of ‘NEET’
The acronym ‘NEET’ is used to depict those who are aged between 15 and 24 and who are not participating in the labour market and are disengaged from education or training. It is important to note that the ‘NEET’ category is comprised of a diverse group of young people, some of whom are actively seeking employment while others, for various reasons, may choose not to work or study. This may include those who are taking time off from education as well as those who may be incapacitated from participating in the labour market. The group may also include those who come from deprived backgrounds as well as those who have difficulty entering the labour market due to the shortage of jobs.
The Latest Figures
In the current economic climate, issues relating to ‘NEETs’ are increasingly on the policy agenda. Apart from Luxembourg, all EU Member States have seen an increase in the numbers of young people who are unemployed. According to Eurostat figures, in 2010, 12.8% of young people in the EU27 (which is about 7.5 million young people) can be classified as NEET. Figures vary between Member States, ranging from 4.4% in the Netherlands to 21.8% in Bulgaria. Overall, between 2008 and 2010, young people accounted for nearly one-fifth (17.5%) of the increase in the unemployment figures. It is estimated NEET’s lack of participation in the labour force costs approximately 2 billion Euros per week, with some countries such as Ireland and Bulgaria paying as much as 2% of their GDP.
The Consequences of becoming ‘NEET’
The inability of those leaving schools to find jobs for an extended period of time is particularly disturbing, as it has a ‘scaring effect’ for them with long-term consequences on their skills, income and even health. The Eurofound report also highlighted the research that demonstrated that those who become ‘NEET’ have less trust in political institutions and generally tend to participate less in different kinds of associations. This, in turn, diminishes their ability to accumulate their social capital and also has a negative impact on their communities. The effects are also likely to have a negative inter-generational impact with those who are currently considered young serving as role models for the next generation. The lack of employment for the young can also have severe consequences on the care and pension contributions of the older generation.
Who is vulnerable to becoming ‘NEET’
Youths are particularly vulnerable when it comes to unemployment as many of those leaving school have yet to gain crucial working experience that can make them competitive and resilient in the labour force. Moreover, several factors can make youth more vulnerable to become a part of the ‘NEET’ category. According to both reports, a combination of personal, social and economic factors make some young people particularly vulnerable to becoming ‘NEET’. Some factors highlighted include the following:
It is important to stress, however, that despite certain factors that make young people particularly vulnerable to becoming NEET, some of the findings highlighted in the European Foundation Report demonstrate that those categories of young people who have completed their education and would be traditionally at a lower risk of being unemployed are now also vulnerable to becoming NEET. The Report demonstrates that in this economic climate, having basic and even higher education does not protect young people against unemployment. This is the case particularly in some Member States, including Greece, Italy and Portugal, where high levels of unemployment can be found among those with and without tertiary education. Thereport, however, argues that ‘the protection effect of higher education has decreased across all [EU] countries’.
In light of these findings, one of the reports on recent policy developments depicts measures that have been introduced at national levels aimed at addressing issues related to NEETs. In particular, the report highlights policy interventions that try to address the problem of early school leaving, including preventative and reintegration measures. It also includes programmes that facilitate the transition to employment, including measures to support school-to-work transitions; measures to foster employability; removing practical and logistical barriers and providing employer incentives. The report includes specific examples of such measures and discusses their success rates.