The Doldrums of Youth Unemployment


With last week’s census figures showing that four out of every ten people under the age of twenty-five are currently unemployed, Sean Finnan looks at the figures behind youth unemployment and the consequences of it.

Last week saw the CSO release figures on youth unemployment taken from last April’s census. According to the CSO, 39 per cent of people between 16 and 25 were without work last April. Counties like Limerick, Donegal and Longford had youth unemployment rates hitting 50 per cent. These figures do not include those engaging in full time education, only those actively participating in the labour force. These are the young people that have finished their education, their training programs and have failed to find a job. In a country with the youngest population in all of the EU, the starvation of job opportunities is leaving Ireland’s youth in a state of paralysis.

President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), John Logue, gave his reaction to the University Observer on the release of these figures. “The figures … are something which we have guessed for quite some time and we knew it was going to be that high… If you look at the lack of confidence, the lack of self esteem that guys are facing day in day out, having to hand in C.V’s and employers just saying that there’s no point in even handing in the C.V at all because it just goes to the bottom of the pile. These are the things that have long-term implications for the country as a whole. If we have a nation of young people who are getting rejection letter after rejection letter, that’s a national crisis, that’s not just unique to the person themselves. I think we need to get very, very real about the issue of youth unemployment at the minute in this country. As I said, it’s not just an issue for young people, it’s an issue for their families, it’s an issue for the country as a whole because if these guys go through life thinking that they’re not worthy of employment then that’s a national disgrace.”

Although the unemployment rate was given as 19 per cent nationally in the census (424,843 people), this figure was well above the 14.3 per cent given by the Quarterly National Household Survey, which was taken in the first four months of last year. So which do we use when we wish to evaluate the number of unemployed? The Government uses the QNHS as it is conducted more regularly than the census and it is deemed by the CSO as the most accurate measure of unemployment. It is a sample based survey compared to the census which is answered by the whole of the country. Many groups that work on the unemployed’s behalf also use this as the definitive figure. However, if the Live Register for the same period of April last year is taken into account, the number of people signing on for unemployment benefit was equal to 439,571. This is much closer to the census figure for unemployment compared to the 304,500 figure given by the QNHS. Since the Live Register also takes into account other welfare payments and also casual workers, the figure could be seen as aligning much closer to the census figure than the QNHS. The government’s continued reliance on the QNHS then could be giving an artificially lower unemployment rate than is actually out there causing for the effective planning of budgets and of course job schemes.

The release of the Live Register figures show that Youth Unemployment has fallen slowly. The percentage of those under the age of 25 on the Live Register now stands at 17.5 per cent, down from 19 per cent this time last year. However, there is a suggestion behind this headline that the labour force under that age is falling at a faster rate than the numbers being employed. During the last quarter of 2011, the under 25 labour force stood at 202,200. QNHS for the first quarter of this year shows the same to be at 187,600, a drop of 14,600. The fall in the 15-19 category of people being unemployed and in the labour force would suggest they are staying further in education. However, the relatively minuscule fall in unemployment compared to the large fall in the labour force in the 19-24 bracket would suggest emigration, especially since this covers the first quarter of this year when few new educational courses would be on offer and people start the new year looking for fresh opportunities.

Speaking on the subject to the University Observer, John Stewart of the Irish National Organization of the Unemployed stated that “as measured by the Live Register, the number of young people unemployed has come down and there’s a couple of reasons for that. First of all, I think there is evidence that young people are staying on longer in education, they are increasingly availing of any training or education programs that are available … Now there is an issue there in terms if there is a sufficient number of programs that satisfy the demand and certainly that is not the case at the moment. The other issue is whether the programs are sufficiently linked to job and employment outcomes and there would be some concerns there. Our sense is that people would be much more likely to engage in education and training programs and also get involved in internships if they see a usefulness in it for them and I think the key to that is that there should be a job at the end of it.”

Mr. Stewart continued: “Unfortunately there are many young people making the decision to look elsewhere for work and have made the decision to emigrate. It is very clearly a factor that the figures would be much higher if it weren’t for very many people making the decision to emigrate. It’s certainly from our experience that the current crop of college leavers are probably amongst the best educated that we have ever had. They’re precisely the type of people that we would like to encourage to stay in the country because obviously we’ve invested very considerably in keeping people in education and the benefits of all that will now be seen in those countries where people are emigrating to and all of that investment, all of that knowledge, all of that potential enterprise that’s there will really work for the benefit of countries that people have emigrated to.”

For those that choose not to emigrate, they are faced with limited opportunities here. In the National Youth Council’s report on youth unemployment, 90 per cent of respondents believed that being unemployed had a negative effect on their sense of well-being. Repeated rejections and idleness contributes to the lack of self worth experienced by those unemployed especially those of a young age. If the government can’t provide employment opportunities, it and other organizations need to provide outlets and support for the jobless suffering from stress and depression. Cuts to social welfare have only added to the social exclusion experienced by the unemployed. They have few funds to socialize and this can contribute to further isolation from their fellow peers.

“That’s, I think, the danger with the figures that we’ve seen today,” says Logue, “is that there’s a sense of despair among young people and that frightens me because when you get people who are feeling a serious lack of self worth and that hopelessness that comes with long term unemployment, that’s when we start to hit the scary side of the economic crisis.”

Cuts to education, a reduction in the maintenance grant and increases in the student to teacher ratios are ensuring that the next generation are not getting the same educational opportunities as we had. With the census showing that employment prospects improve with the level of education received, disadvantaged areas are again going to be hit hardest, not just now but into the future. Government initiatives urgently need to help those with low skills, the least employable, to be retrained and re-educated so that in the future no employment black holes develop with certain areas and people being left behind. We have already seen what happened with the Moyross estate in Limerick where the 91 per cent unemployment rate in the early nineties was never tackled, creating social problems that affected everyone.

“There would be a real concern from a youth unemployment perspective that the types of jobs being created really do demand a level of knowledge, skills and qualifications that …a very significant number on the Live Register…who would have lower levels of educational qualifications [are without] and really without significant up-skilling, the reality is that any of those young people are going to face difficulty getting back to work unless the right policies are put into place to support people to do that” concluded Mr. Stewart.

Unless complacent ideas are pushed aside, their insidious results will prove more productive than the 55,000 young people on the dole.