Young people are our leaders of tomorrow. They will drive forward efforts to create a more prosperous, more equitable and more resilient future. Yet it is the young that have been among the hardest hit by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Investing in skills, education, quality jobs and mental health will help them rejuvenate their educational and career prospects, empowering them to face the future with confidence – and become the best they can be.
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15-to-24 year-olds unemployed in OECD countries (pandemic peak: almost 1 in 5)
"Data trends show that more young men are gaining digital skills than young women. To see that men are primarily the ones getting a STEM qualification and employment is discouraging. Equal opportunities for both young men and women is key in producing a diverse workforce."
"I find the significant role played by youth organisations during the recovery encouraging. As a student rep, I have experienced first-hand the tremendous contribution they can make to decision-making. I hope decision-makers develop lasting partnerships with youth organisations and this continues beyond the crisis."
"I understand that more than two billion people will need to upskill or reskill to meet the demands of a radically transforming job market. In this context, lifelong learning is critical and learning practical skills—digital or otherwise—is as important as a theoretical understanding of the world."
"At the height of the pandemic, almost 1 in 5 young people were unemployed. Young people struggle to find jobs because they lack the experience of older workers. I think that one solution is subsidising in-work training to encourage employers to hire less experienced youth."
"In 2020, unemployment rose by 6.6% for young people and 2.7% for people aged 25-74 – a trend we can also observe during the 2007-2009 crisis. Yet, I believe the COVID-19 recovery is taking place more rapidly for young people, which gives me hope for my generation."
At least one-in-ten of working 20-to-29 year-olds is self-employed in six EU countries – Greece (13%), Italy (12%) and the Czech Republic (11%), Poland (10%) and Romania (10%).
Countries with higher rates of youth self-employment compared with the EU average tend to have experienced high levels of youth unemployment following the financial crisis of 2008-09 (e.g. Greece and Italy). However, the gap between youth and overall self-employment rates is wide for many countries, including those with low youth self-employment rates, such as Germany (2.7% vs. 8.0%) and Denmark (3.2% vs. 7.5%), as well as those with high youth self-employment rates, such as Greece (12.8% vs. 27.9%) and Italy (12.1% vs. 20.2%).
Exploring policy approaches to closing that gap can help bolster youth entrepreneurship – and support a resilient, long-term economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Younger adults experienced some of the biggest declines in mental health, social connectedness and life satisfaction in 2020 and 2021, as well as facing job disruption and insecurity.
While the feeling of disconnection from communal life became a widespread reality for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, the young were consistently more likely to feel left out compared to older age groups at given stages of the pandemic.
This new OECD report looks at how recovery policies centred on long-term well-being can help the most vulnerable and support efforts to rebuild natural, human and social capital after the COVID-19 crisis. These include greater access to lifelong learning, bolstering social capital and strengthening trust.
Young people have reported much higher levels of anxiety and depression since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the general adult population. This has widened existing differences.
Data from July 2021 point to 44.8% of young people reporting symptoms of anxiety in the US, compared to 27% for all adults, while 38.6% reported depression compared with 22.1% of adults. Earlier OECD data (from March 2021) showed that young people were 30% to 80% more likely to report symptoms of either depression or anxiety in Belgium, France and the US.
More data and analysis to identify young sub-groups – such as women, LGBTI+ and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds – that may need more support will be needed to better target extra mental health resources.
Engaging young people in the labour market is a matter of personal growth and development – and also of economic growth and social cohesion.
The spike in unemployment as economies locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic underlines the disparity in outcomes by age group: the blow dealt to 15-to-24 year-olds was much harder than to older age groups. The resulting scarring effects on young people hits individual well-being and diminishes the productive capacity of economies – highlighting the need to invest in youth to create quality jobs and build confidence in their future prospects.
How can governments and policy makers do more to help?
Of the voting-age population across OECD countries, 34% is between the ages of 20 and 39. This compares to 22% of members of parliament (MPs) aged under 40 (from 36% in Norway to 8% in France).
Young participation in public institutions helps ensure public decisions take account of a plurality of views, which supports accountability of policy decisions while bolstering greater public responsiveness to all citizens’ needs and preferences. And it can help build greater public trust.
Can governments do more to empower the young and ensure their voices are heard?