Youth bear brunt of labour market restructuring - study
By Irina Smirnova-Godoy | Wednesday 04 July 2012
Young workers were hit hard while older workers gained in the job market in 2011, according to Eurofound. The European social policy think tank’s recently published ‘2011 yearbook on living and working in Europe’ reveals that youth unemployment rose to 21% - ie affecting around five million people - in the EU. The rate is an alarming 43% in Spain. Employment declined mainly in middle-ranking and mid to low-ranking jobs, affecting younger workers (15-29 years) and core-age workers (30-49 years). The trend in net gains in higher-paid jobs during this period benefited the older workers, thus having a generationally differentiated impact on the recession-ridden European labour force.
Demographic shifts in population with fewer young workers available to enter the workforce continued to pressure policy makers into adopting measures to guarantee retirement obligations for ever-increasing numbers of seniors. The year 2011 witnessed successes in retaining older people in the active workforce through raising the age of retirement and offering flexible part-time employment opportunities for older workers. Employment rates for older people have increased over the past decade in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK. However, the differences between the member states are quite marked. In Sweden, over 60% of those aged between 60 and 64 are in work, while the respective figure is below 20% in Belgium and Hungary.
A troubling trend highlighted by Eurofound is the increase in the number of young people known as NEETs (not in employment, education or training). They share a heightened risk of social exclusion. According to Eurostat (2010 figures), 15.2% of Europeans in the 15-29 age group - or 13.9 million people - are classified as NEETs. Studies show that NEETs participate less in volunteer activities, are less likely to vote in national elections and have a low level of institutional trust. Eurofound notes that more and more graduates become NEETs, countering the widely held perception that education is the best protection against unemployment.
Eurofound also identifies three distinct patterns of employment shifts. Some countries experienced positive net job growth with gains in higher paid positions (upgrading), others witnessed polarisation with growth in both higher paid and lower paid jobs but with severe losses in mid-level jobs, while yet others registered losses across the board (downgrading). Assessing changes in employment status, the yearbook notes the expansion of part-time work in all pay categories. The biggest gains were in services, while manufacturing was the main sector for job losses. The crisis appears to have narrowed the gender gap on the labour market, as some 80% of the net decline in employment affected male workers.
The outlook for job growth in Europe is bleak for the coming years, Eurofound concludes. Competing generational pressures present serious challenges for policy makers.
The study is at www.eurofound.europa.eu/pubdocs/2012/32/en/3/EF1232EN.pdf