Fine Gael election poster from 2011 (Image: William Murphy, Flickr)

Statistics from the European Statistical Office, Eurostat, released last week show that the proportion of working young people (aged 18 – 24) at risk of poverty more than doubled between 2016 and 2017.

At 9.3 per cent, almost one-in-ten working young people in Ireland are now at risk of poverty. This places the country among others such as Austria (8.4 per cent), Belgium (9.4 per cent) and the Netherlands (10.5 per cent) which are experiencing similar levels of at-risk-poverty in working youth.

The new data published by Eurostat put an end to the downward trend which had been seen in the country over the three years to 2016, where 4.7 per cent of young people in work were at risk of poverty, and is at odds with the general downward trend in other EU countries.

Among EU countries, Romania and Luxembourg had the highest rate of working young people at risk of poverty, at 28.2 per cent and 20 per cent respectively, while Czechia and Slovakia recorded the lowest for the year 2017, falling in at 1.5 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively.

In total, 12 EU countries recorded rises in the proportion of working youth at risk, including Spain, Malta, Lithuania and Estonia, which experienced the highest proportionate rise within the EU. Greece, whose economy is expected to grow by 2.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2019, experienced the biggest drop in at-risk young workers, but remains high at 14.1 per cent.

Across the EU, 11 per cent of young workers are at risk, down 1.9 per cent from its peak in 2014. The figure is higher on average for those countries in the Euro Area countries, at 11.9 per cent, however, is still down on the previous year where it reached 12.6 per cent.

Ireland has experienced a high rate of growth in recent years with the Department of Finance forecasting GDP growth of 7.5 per cent for 2018. Figures released in December show that the economy grew by an annualised 4.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2018, while the unemployment rate in December was 5.3 per cent, down from 6.2 per cent a year earlier. Youth unemployment in December 2018 was 12.2 per cent, falling marginally from 12.3 per cent in November.

Speaking to Kildare FM on 25 January, Political Officer at the European Commission Representation in Ireland Tim Hayes said that the Eurostat figures “seem to indicate that people just aren’t earning enough, that they’re in low wage jobs, or perhaps part-time or zero-hour contract jobs.”

The figures come after the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Ireland released its Facts and Figures 2018 report this month which showed that 11.8 per cent of children and 10.2 per cent of persons under 60 were living in jobless households. Despite increases of between 4.7 and 5.5 per cent in disposable income and earnings, the report noted that 18.8 per cent of people were considered to be experiencing “enforced deprivation”.

Eurostat identifies individuals as being at risk of poverty if their equivalised disposable income is less than 60 per cent of the median equivalised disposable income after welfare transfers are accounted for. The equivalised disposable income is the total income of a household, after tax and other deductions, that is available for spending or saving, divided by the number of household members converted into equalised adults.

According to the 2017 Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) report published by the CSO, approximately 109,000 people with jobs in Ireland are living in poverty. Social Justice Ireland, an independent think tank and advocacy organisation, recently stated in relation to the report, that while “many people assume that a job is an automatic poverty reliever…this is clearly not the case.”

Eurostat’s figures show that the proportion of all working persons over the age of 18 who are at risk of poverty rose by 0.3 per cent.