After a decade of decline, the weighted average OECD unemployment rate among 15‑29 year‑olds increased from 8.6% at the end of 2019 to 11.5% at the end of 2020 (Figure 1).1 This rate is significantly higher than the overall unemployment rate, which stood at 7.1% at the end of 2020. At the onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, unemployment rose considerably more among young women than among young men, but the gender gap has since closed. Increases in youth unemployment rates have often come on top of existing structural challenges for young people to enter the labour market, with many countries having persistently high levels of youth unemployment from before the pandemic.

The COVID‑19 crisis has hit young people harder in the labour market because of several factors. Young workers are over-represented in industries and sectors most affected by the crisis, and are more likely to work on temporary contracts, exposing them to a higher risk of job loss. Across the OECD in 2019, 15‑24 year‑olds were more than twice as likely to be on temporary contracts (25.7%) than the total working population (11.8%) (OECD, 2021[1]). In addition, as the last in, young people tend to have less company-specific knowledge and skills, and are therefore often the first out. Young people who are looking for work – often for the first time – are doing so at a time of limited vacancies and fierce competition from more experienced jobseekers, making their labour market integration even more difficult.

The increase in unemployment rates does not fully capture the impact of the crisis on young people’s labour market outcomes. In the second quarter of 2020, hours worked by young people had fallen by 26% year-on-year, which is 11 percentage points more than for prime‑aged and older workers, and the return of hours worked to pre‑crisis levels has been much slower among young people (OECD, 2021[2]). In the early stages of the COVID‑19 crisis, the proportion of 15‑29 year‑olds not in employment, education or training (NEETs) also swelled, with many young people becoming inactive. At the end of 2020, the average NEET rate among 15‑29 year‑olds in OECD countries stood at 12%, and 2.9 million more young people were NEETs compared to one year before (OECD, 2021[2]).

Many firms have been reluctant to hire (young) people at a time when economies are weak and profits are down, mirroring patterns seen during most economic downturns. The proportion of young people in work who started jobs in the past three months, which can be interpreted as the youth hiring rate, was down 12.7% year-on-year in the EU‑26 at the end of 2020 (OECD, 2021[2]). Job opportunities for young people remain heavily affected by the COVID‑19 crisis, and new labour market entrants account for a large share of the rise in joblessness among young people.

In the context of this labour market crisis, it is unsurprising that young people are reporting significant financial pressures. When surveyed in September-October 2020 for the OECD Risks that Matter survey, 36% of 18‑29 year‑olds reported financial difficulties since the onset of the pandemic – a higher rate than among 30‑49 year‑olds (33%) and 50‑64 year‑olds (26%) (OECD, 2021[3]). The impact has also been uneven among young people. Among young respondents who identify themselves as belonging to low social class, 61% reported that their household had been affected by some form of job-related disruption, and 21% reported outright job loss, compared to 49% and 13% respectively for young people from the middle class (OECD, 2021[3]).

Work-based learning opportunities and apprenticeships have also been hard hit. Existing legislation excluded conducting apprenticeships remotely in some countries, and enrolments fell because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID‑19 restrictions and the inability of employers to continue providing work-based training in light of the economic impacts of the crisis and health restrictions (OECD, 2021[4]). In Australia, commencements of apprenticeships and traineeships had fallen by 18.8% in the 12 months ending September 2020, compared with the 12 months ending September 2019. In Germany, by the start of the training year in September 2020, the number of applicants for apprenticeships was down by 7.6%, while the number of available positions had fallen by 7.3% compared to one year before. Monthly evidence up to May 2021 suggests that both the number of applications and places available have not recovered to pre‑crisis levels. In a few OECD countries, however, the number of apprenticeships have been maintained (e.g. Switzerland), while France saw a 40% increase in apprenticeship commencements in 2020, in large part due to policies to promote hiring of apprentices.

Young people in education are also facing pressures from the COVID‑19 crisis. Learning has been disrupted for many months, and in some cases, for more than a year. While learning losses may only be temporary, educational aspirations might be lowered, and student disengagement and rates of early school leaving may rise due to factors such as discouragement, challenges to attend (virtual) classes, and difficulties in providing support to students. There is growing evidence that school attendance has fallen in many countries. In the United States, it was estimated that as many as 3 million young people from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have received any formal education between March and October 2020 (Bellweather Education, 2020[5]). On the other hand, some young people may delay labour market entry and extend their studies, which can help bridge the crisis at a time when jobs are less available. For working students, the lack of temporary job opportunities may causes challenges for financing of education and living costs, and for some may prevent of their education.

Despite these difficult circumstances, young people are creatively responding to these challenges and developing new forms of solidarity. Many young people have been adept at moving to digital forms of communicating, learning and working, and quick to seize opportunities of the accelerated digital transformation. But not everyone has been able to reap the benefits. Large inequalities exist in access to the Internet and digital devices, both of which are prerequisites for learning and working in remote settings. Across the OECD, in 2018, around one in five 15‑year‑olds from socio‑economically disadvantaged backgrounds had neither a quiet place to study at home nor an Internet connection (OECD, 2020[6]).

The mental health of many young people is also being severely affected. Across three OECD countries (Belgium, France and the United States) where data are available, the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression was around 30% to 80% higher among young people than the general population in March 2021, with young people particularly affected by loneliness. This deterioration in mental health can be attributed to a combination of weakening of protective factors – access to exercise, schooling, routine, social connection and employment – and an increase in risk factors of poor mental health – financial insecurity, unemployment and uncertainty (OECD, 2021[7]). Young women and LGBTI+ individuals are reporting greater declines in mental health during the pandemic. In 2018, in Belgium, prevalence of symptoms of depression among 15‑24 year‑old women was 2.5 percentage points higher than among young men. Yet, by March 2021, the gender difference in prevalence of symptoms of depression among 18‑29 year‑olds stood at almost 15 percentage points.

Last but not least, the COVID‑19 crisis has shed light on the importance of ensuring safe, accessible and affordable homes for young people, especially for those no longer living with their parents. Containment measures left many young “hidden” homeless people with no safe place to stay, especially those who were previously staying with friends or extended family. Despite efforts to move rough sleepers into self-contained accommodation, young people remain heavily affected by housing instability. In England (United Kingdom), 78% of surveyed local councils reported an increase in youth homelessness from the onset of the pandemic to mid‑2020 (Centrepoint, 2020[8]). Meanwhile, 2.4% of young people surveyed in the OECD Risks that Matter 2020 survey reported that they had lost their home because they could no longer afford mortgage or rent since the onset of the pandemic (OECD, 2021[3]). Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds or marginalised communities such as LGBTI+ and young people with disabilities face additional challenges.

In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, many governments addressed young people’s difficulties too late and insufficiently, often resulting in long-lasting scars on young people’s careers and overall well-being (OECD, 2013[9]; Carcillo et al., 2015[10]). It took a whole decade for the OECD youth unemployment rate to return to its pre‑2008 level, and many other outcomes have remained fragile. This time, to avoid similar long-term impacts on young people’s prospects, all governments across the OECD have put in place targeted policies to support them through the crisis and recovery. Responses have differed significantly from country-to-country both in scale and areas of focus, but nonetheless span across many policy areas, ranging from support to find and keep jobs; to income support and prevention of social exclusion; as well as mental health initiatives. Table 1 presents an overview of the measures taken.

National youth strategies and plans can help guide policies across ministries and sectors, and most OECD countries had such youth-specific strategies prior to the COVID‑19 crisis, although they differ in scope and ambition.3 22 out of 37 responding OECD countries have an operational national youth strategy covering multiple sectors, and five were in the process of elaborating a new or updated strategy (see Annex A). These findings are consistent with a survey in April 2020, in which 25 OECD countries reported having an operational national youth strategy (OECD, 2020[11]).

In a number of OECD countries, new plans, strategies and commitments have been made in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, often with an emphasis on youth employment. In Korea, the government announced a Youth Policy Basic Plan in December 2020 to promote a whole‑of-government response to support young people through the COVID‑19 crisis with policy directives for each ministry. In New Zealand, a youth plan for 2020‑22 was developed to mitigate the impact of the COVID‑19 crisis on young people with an emphasis on Māori and Pacific young people, LGBTI+ young people and young people with disabilities. In France, while there is no cross-cutting national youth strategy, the government developed a youth employment strategy for the COVID‑19 recovery. Launched in July 2020, the 1 jeune 1 solution (1 young person 1 solution) plan which had an initial budget of EUR 6.7 billion, which was later increased to EUR 9 billion, offers tailored solutions through a package of measures, including hiring subsidies for youth under 26 years old and for apprenticeship contracts, strengthened employment support, and training targeted at disadvantaged young people.

Participation of young people and youth organisations is key for an effective national youth strategy, particularly in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic, in order to (re)build trust of young people in governments and public institutions. In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, trust in public institutions declined in many countries, and especially so among young people. There is a risk that the COVID‑19 crisis could similarly reduce trust (OECD, 2020[12]). Most countries have provisions to engage young people in decision‑making processes within their youth strategies. In Mexico, one of the three pillars of the National Youth Program for 2021‑24, which was adopted in January 2021, is to involve and consult young people in developing policies. In Luxembourg, as part of the elaboration of the 2022‑24 Youth Action Plan, a survey is being conducted to consult the views of young people as well as professionals working with young people.

During periods of crisis, emergency income support through transfers and scaled-up social benefits can provide income support for those most affected, and most countries quickly responded to the pandemic by putting into place broad measures (OECD, 2020[13]). These measures have been vital to provide swift relief to those who need it urgently, although careful consideration will be necessary to ensure these measures are both effective and sustainable. Even when not directed at specific age groups, these measures have often helped to support the incomes of young people.

Yet in some cases, young people have not been able to access such support, especially when tied to employment. Minimum contribution requirements for unemployment insurance – ranging from 3‑4 months in France, Italy, Greece, Canada and the United States to 12 months in Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Sweden, and 24 months in Ireland and the Slovak Republic prior to the crisis – exclude young workers who recently started a job. Young people also often work on non‑standard contracts and are therefore less well-covered by existing social protection measures. In light of the crisis, a number of countries loosened minimum contribution requirements, which may have particularly helped young people who are more likely to be newly in work. In Canada, until September 2021, individuals only need around 3 weeks of uninsured work to become eligible for employment insurance, while in Portugal, the minimum contribution to access unemployment insurance was lowered to 6 months for those who were unemployed between mid-March 2020 and end-June 2020. In Spain, the minimum contribution requirements were temporarily suspended, including for temporary workers.

The measures taken to provide targeted income support to young people have varied within the OECD, both in terms of scale and approach (see Annex A). At least nine OECD countries have implemented emergency income support and increased social benefits targeted specifically at young jobseekers and young people from low-income backgrounds (Australia, Belgium, Colombia, France, Korea, Israel, Latvia, Mexico and New Zealand). In these countries, emergency income support was provided at regular intervals, often during the most acute periods of the crisis. In Latvia, the government introduced an allowance for jobseekers who recently acquired higher education, which could be paid for up to four months until June 2021. In France, an initial EUR 200 payment was provided in May 2020 to 800 000 young people under the age of 25 experiencing financial hardship. This was followed by two decrees in December 2020, which established monthly allowances for previous recipients of higher education scholarships under the age of 30 who are looking for a job, and for young jobseekers under the age of 26 who are registered with employment services. In Australia, a Coronavirus Supplement provided income support for 16‑21 year‑olds receiving the Youth Allowance and looking for full-time work, studying part‑time, or temporarily unable to work. The supplement was set at AUD 550 per fortnight until September 2020, and was slowly reduced before being phased out in March 2021 as conditions improved. Similar measures were taken in Colombia, where the government provided five additional extraordinary payments (totalling COP 356 000 per recipient) to participants in the Jóvenes en Acción (Youth in Action) programme, which provides conditional cash transfers to 14‑26 year‑olds who are living in a situation of poverty or vulnerability. In New Zealand, meanwhile, an increase to the Youth Payment for 16‑17 year‑olds and Young Parent Payment for 16‑18 year‑old parents was introduced in the 2021 budget as part of a broad effort to increase social benefits beyond the pandemic.

In at least 11 OECD countries, emergency income support measures for students in post-secondary education and universities have been put in place, with these measures usually targeted at students who have lost part-time jobs, who were unable to find work, or are experiencing financial hardship (Austria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United States). Measures taken include the introduction of new allowances, expanding eligibility of existing measures to students, and adjustments to tuition fees and loan repayments. In the United States, a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund was set up to provide financial aid to students during the crisis. USD 6 billion was allocated to student financial aid in March 2020, and a further USD 18 billion was allocated in March 2021 to prevent hunger, homelessness and hardship due to the COVID‑19 crisis. In the Netherlands, emergency one‑off income support ranging from EUR 800 to EUR 2000 was made available to students in vocational education and tertiary education to compensate for delays to studies and support young people in completing education. A bill is currently being discussed in the Senate which would lead to a 50% reduction in tuition and course fees for students in post-secondary education for 2021‑22, including in vocational education centres and universities. In Denmark, the government made temporary changes to the State Education Grant to increase the financial support available for young people, many of whom had been heavily reliant on part-time work to finance their living. This support measure remained in place until June 2021 and includes the provision of an additional loan for young people who have exhausted their educational grant.

Across many OECD countries, job retention schemes – primarily short-time work schemes and wage subsidies – have been crucial to protect jobs and livelihoods, thus cushioning the impact of the COVID‑19 crisis. These schemes seek to preserve jobs at firms experiencing a temporary decline in business activity by reducing their labour costs and supporting the incomes of workers whose hours are cut back. While job retention schemes have not been targeted specifically at young workers, they have been used much more for young people than other age groups.

This outcome likely reflects the large share of young people in hard-hit industries, which have made heavy use of these schemes. In Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, more than 25% of young workers were on job retention schemes in Q2 2020, more than 5 percentage points above rates for prime‑age workers (OECD, 2021[2]). It also reflects government efforts to expand eligibility of job retention schemes to temporary or non-standard workers. Data from Switzerland, for example, show that a large number of temporary jobs were supported by such schemes, albeit slightly less than permanent jobs. In Austria and Germany, meanwhile, apprentices could also be placed on job retention schemes. While job retention schemes will need to remain in place as the crisis continues, they can only be a temporary tool and will have to be increasingly targeted to jobs that are likely to remain viable in the medium term or sectors where activity can resume.

Amidst the ongoing uncertain recovery, when carefully targeted, hiring subsidies can be a cost-effective way of helping young unemployed people into jobs. Evidence from the global financial crisis shows that temporary hiring subsidies targeted at small firms and low-wage workers successfully promoted job creation and proved cost-effective (Cahuc, Carcillo and Le Barbanchon, 2018[14]). To minimise deadweight losses, hiring subsidies should only be used in the case of temporary weak demand or targeted at more disadvantaged groups (e.g. young people or long-term unemployed). Combining hiring subsidies with on-the‑job training is crucial to guarantee long-term benefits for the workers supported.

23 OECD countries have had hiring subsidies in place at some point during the pandemic for employers recruiting young people on a full-time or long-term basis (see Annex A). Of these countries, 13 introduced new youth hiring subsidies or extended existing schemes amidst the COVID‑19 crisis (Australia, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In Chile, employment subsidies targeting young workers were introduced in September 2020 and made available until March 2021. Companies newly hiring 18‑24 year‑olds, women, or people with disabilities from disadvantaged backgrounds could receive a subsidy of up to 60% of the monthly remuneration of the employee – compared to 50% for other workers. The subsidy was capped at CLP 270 000 per month and was available for up to six months, with the employer having to prove that the new hire increased the number of employees compared to levels in July 2020. In Italy, employers can now receive hiring subsidies that contribute up to 100% (maximum EUR 6 000 per year) of wages over a period of three years when they hire anyone not in employment, education or training aged under 36 on a permanent basis. Prior to the COVID‑19 crisis, subsidies were limited to 50% of wages and capped at EUR 3 000, and employers could only claim subsides for people aged under 31. The remaining 10 OECD countries already had youth hiring subsidies in place from before the pandemic, and have not made any adjustments in response to the pandemic so far (Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Turkey).

Work-based learning is important to facilitate the school-to-work transition, but has been heavily affected by the COVID‑19 crisis, and often suspended over the past year. Work-based learning is often a component of formal education; it includes not only apprenticeships, but also informal on-the‑job learning, internships and work placements. Across the OECD, around three‑quarters of young adults (25‑34 year‑olds) who attained vocational upper-secondary or post‑secondary non-tertiary education gained some work experience during their period of study, including apprenticeships, mandatory traineeships and summer jobs (OECD, 2020[15]).

30 OECD countries have strengthened work-based learning opportunities (see Annex A), and in many countries, this has been the result of new subsidies or the expansion of existing initiatives to promote retention and hiring of apprentices during the COVID‑19 crisis. In eight countries (Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), new incentive schemes for hiring or retaining apprentices were introduced, while in a further eight countries, existing schemes were scaled up (Belgium, Greece, Italy, Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States). In Germany, the federal government set up a “secure apprenticeships” scheme in July 2020 to financially support small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that were hit hard by the COVID‑19 crisis, and incentivised them to maintain training for apprentices. The scheme also rewards SMEs that take on trainees who were working for companies that became insolvent due to the COVID‑19 crisis. As the scale of the challenge became clear, the federal government increased the generosity of the scheme. In March 2021, the scheme was extended to 2021/2022 and will receive EUR 500 million in 2021. The training bonus for companies that maintain their current level of training was also doubled from EUR 2000 per apprentice to EUR 4 000 for this year. In Flanders (Belgium), the apprenticeship fee paid to employers was increased from EUR 500‑750 to EUR 1 000 per year per apprentice from September 2020 and August 2021.

Some of these schemes have even contributed to maintaining or increasing the number of apprenticeship positions. In France, where strengthening uptake of apprenticeships has been a priority for the government from before the COVID‑19 crisis, an increase in apprenticeships in 2020 has been attributed to a combination of the 1 young person 1 solution initiative, which provides a EUR 5 000 to 8 000 bonus for companies recruiting apprenticeships between 1 July 2020 and 31 December 2021, and a law passed in 2018 that simplified conditions for employers to recruit apprentices, extended the age from 25 to 29 years old, and increased the attractiveness for young people to opt for apprenticeships. In Switzerland, a new COVID‑19 apprenticeship taskforce was set up in May 2020 to co‑ordinate policies at the sub-national level, and contributed to preventing any decrease in the number of apprenticeship enrolments in 2020 compared to the year before. In Geneva, for example, lump-sum payments wroth CHF 3 000 have been available from May 2020 for companies hiring apprentices.

Even with such financial incentives for employers, shortages of work‑based learning opportunities could persist in some countries. For study branches with a mandatory apprenticeship component, the lack of work-based learning opportunities could delay graduation, making school-to-work transition more difficult (OECD, 2021[4]). Many OECD countries have therefore made work-based learning arrangements more flexible, while in some countries, flexibility was already provided in the system. Spain adopted regulation in September 2020 to increase flexibility of work-based learning components of vocational education. Work-based components can temporarily be reduced to the minimum amount of hours permitted by law, and may even be replaced by taught modules that seek to reflect the benefits of work-based learning where this is not possible. In the Czech Republic, the flexibility of the apprenticeship system allows for students to reduce the work-based learning elements of their education. In Austria, a training guarantee was already in place before the crisis to ensure that young people who cannot find apprenticeship positions are enrolled in equivalent apprenticeship programmes in a supra-company training entity including recognised final exams. In response to the crisis, the government made 3 000 additional supra-company placements available. An additional obstacle to continuing work-based learning have been requirements or expectations that training would be provided in-person, which led to the suspension of placements while movement restrictions were in place. In the United States, the Department of Labor released a circular providing guidance on delivering work-based learning virtually in December 2020, as well as an online guide on virtual apprenticeships. These measures have facilitated employers in shifting provision of work-based learning to virtual settings.

In OECD countries where apprenticeships play a less prominent role, measures have been introduced to support summer jobs and internships that often provide young people with a ladder into the labour market. In Canada, the Summer Jobs Program, which provides wage subsidies to SMEs to hire young people for quality work experience, has been adapted in light of the COVID‑19 crisis. Wage subsidies have been increased from 50% of the minimum wage to 75%, part-time placements are now eligible, and job placements outside the summer period are also now eligible for subsidies until the spring of 2022. In Iceland, the government dedicated ISK 2.2 billion to create 3 000 temporary summer jobs for students aged 18 and above during the summer of 2020, and the campaign was renewed for 2021, resulting in the creation of a further 2 500 summer jobs. In Portugal, a nine‑month scheme came into force in February 2021, in which employment services provide allowances for young people who enrol in internships, with employers also reimbursed for costs associated with hiring. In Turkey, the government launched an Internship Mobilisation Programme in July 2020 to compensate for the reduction in number of internships available during the COVID‑19 crisis. The programme provides a platform to help match final-year university students, for whom internships are often a compulsory component of curricula, with public institutions and employers in the voluntary sector. More than 300 000 young people have registered to the platform since its launch.

Public and private employment services connect young workers with the labour market, and offer a wide range of services, including job matching, counselling and career advice, and training and skilling opportunities. As joblessness increased, especially among young people, at the onset of the COVID‑19 crisis, employment services quickly adapted to respond to large inflows of new jobseekers, while also expanding digital services to ensure continuity. Even in the context of the pandemic, where they may not be able to offer many job opportunities, employment services have an important role in ensuring young jobseekers’ access to benefits (if eligible), providing information, and encouraging young jobseekers to remain active (OECD, 2020[16]).

Early outreach is crucial, as opportunities to get in touch become more limited over time, as young people disengage from school or work and become increasingly detached from the labour market. Young people do not reach out to employment services for a range of reasons: they may not be eligible for support; they may not be aware of services; they may not trust public authorities; or they may not be looking for a job. Despite the Youth Guarantee initiative in EU countries, the share of unemployed young people who contacted public employment services had decreased in 12 out of 22 European OECD countries for which data are available. In 2019, the proportion of unemployed young people registered in European OECD countries stood at 56%, down from 59% in 2008 (Figure 2). This decrease can be attributed to a combination of underdeveloped outreach strategies and low youth unemployment rates prior to the crisis. Evidence for 2020 points to a further decline in the share of young people registering with public employment services, most likely related to outreach and registration challenges in the context of the COVID‑19 crisis (OECD, 2021[2]).

A few countries are making outreach to young people a priority in their public and private employment services, with initiatives often swiftly adjusted to remote and digitally enabled settings (see Annex A). In Germany, the Federal Employment Agency is conducting virtual career orientation services, open-air career orientation and counselling in parks to reach out to young people. In the Netherlands, 35 Crisis Regional Mobility Teams work closely with employment services, employer organisations and trade unions to provide additional support to jobseekers and those at risk of unemployment, with young people one of the target groups of this scheme. In Latvia, the project to increase outreach to young NEETs (KNOW AND DO!) which was originally planned to end in 2020, has been extended through to 2022.

Many countries have extended employment support available to young people to help them find a job. In Japan, in April 2020, special consultation services were made available at 56 locations of New Graduates Public Employment Service Offices. The services are specifically targeted at young people who have had their job offers withdrawn due to the COVID‑19 crisis, and includes counselling, job-matching and mental health support. In Australia, the Transition to Work service, which specifically targets 15‑24 year‑olds, now allows young people to receive support for 18 months instead of 12 months previously. In Finland, EUR 45 million was allocated in 2020 to strengthen employment services for young people in light of the impacts of the COVID‑19 crisis. As part of these efforts, pilots covering more than 100 municipalities were launched in March 2021 to strengthen the role of local governments in organising employment services, and improve co‑ordination of services with the national government.

Employment services are also offering more training opportunities for young people, often with an emphasis on digital skills and supporting transition into sustainable employment. In Korea, the employment service is offering training on digital skills such as artificial intelligence as part of its K-Digital Credit programme, while in Greece, the employment service is working with Google Hellas to provide an online vocational training programme on digital upskilling that aims to reach 3 000 unemployed young people aged up to 29. In Ireland, the government announced in July 2020 that it would make over 19 000 full and part-time student placements available for young unemployed individuals, providing opportunities to reskill in sectors identified as providing sustainable employment such as health care, software development and e‑commerce. In Norway, the budget for labour market measures and staffing at public employment services was increased by NOK 1.4 billion in 2021. The funding will be key to meeting the Youth Effort launched in 2017, which aims to ensure all NEETs under the age of 30 receive individualised employment support within eight weeks of registration with the employment service. Much of the investment will go into skills-enhancing measures for young people.

At a time when young people are experiencing increased rates of mental distress, mental health support for young people – notably through schools, universities and workplaces – has also been heavily disrupted. In a WHO survey in June to August 2020, for example, more than three‑quarters of countries reported that their school mental health programmes had been completely or partially disrupted, and over 70% of countries reported disruptions to child and adolescent mental health services (WHO, 2020[17]). Young people increasingly turned to crisis phone lines and external youth centres for support. In Ireland, the youth mental health charity “Jigsaw” saw a 50% surge in demand for services in August 2020, and a four‑fold increase in traffic to its e‑mental health platform in the first half of 2020. While mental health services in some countries have been swift to shift to remote consultations, and young people have been adept in accessing digitally enabled mental health support, these services were already often over‑stretched prior to the crisis (OECD, 2021[7]). As the crisis became prolonged, mental health services and programmes could be resumed, and in some cases, newly introduced or scaled up. In the United States, 15% of respondents in a survey of high school students in January 2021 reported that their schools offered mental health programmes and services while they did not offer such programmes before the pandemic (EdWeek Research Center, 2021[18]).

While many countries have recognised the disproportionate impact of the crisis on young people’s mental health, measures taken have often been moderate or represented only small increases in the budget. In 19 OECD countries, mental health services have been expanded for young people specifically, or new funding has been allocated to supporting young people’s mental health during the COVID‑19 crisis (see Annex A). In France, the “psy check” measure introduced in February 2021 provides all university students with access to up to three free sessions with mental health specialists. In Poland, where reform of child and adolescent mental health services was underway before the crisis, a PLN 220 million package was announced in January 2021 to respond to the mental health impacts of the crisis on young people, including measures such as the launch of a 24‑hour hotline, the expansion of service provision through recruitment of mental health specialists, and the provision of digital addiction treatment programmes.

As outlined in the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Integrated Mental Health, Skills and Work Policy, mental health policies also need to be integrated in educational settings, workplaces and welfare systems through cross-sectoral measures, and a few OECD countries have taken initiatives in this direction during the crisis. In Finland, the government has provided additional funding to the Onni project, which provides low-threshold psychological support and services in one‑stop youth centres, including to recruit new mental health specialists. In Austria, the government announced that the number of school-based psychologists would be increased by 20% in June 2021, and staff are currently being recruited to meet this target. In England (United Kingdom), building on the GBP 13 million allocated in March 2021 to provide tailored mental health services for 18‑25 year‑olds, a further GBP 17 million was allocated in May 2021 to improve mental health supports in educational settings. The government is also developing a Suicide Safer Universities Framework that will support students in higher education experiencing mental health issues.

The COVID‑19 crisis has brought to light many of the housing challenges facing OECD countries, including for young people. Even before the COVID‑19 crisis, many young adults across OECD countries struggled to afford a home of their own, and in the context of rising rents and house prices, most young adults, on average, were living with their parents (OECD, 2020[19]). Young people themselves also report housing to be a major concern. In the OECD Risks that Matter 2020 survey, just over half of 18‑29 year‑old respondents (53%) were somewhat concerned or very concerned with not being able to find or maintain adequate housing over the next year or two, higher than the rate among all respondents (44%) (OECD, 2021[3]). A few OECD countries have been putting into place policies to support people in getting a foothold in the housing ladder, with these efforts mainly benefitting young people. In Iceland, an Equity Loan was introduced in 2020 for first-time buyers from low-income backgrounds, to help people buy housing for the first time by bridging the equity gap.

Since the onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic, many countries introduced emergency housing measures for tenants and homeowners to help them stay in their homes, including eviction bans, rent deferrals and freezes; as well as income support for utility payments (OECD, 2020[19]). In most countries, housing support measures have been means-tested, but have not specifically targeted youth. In a few OECD countries, however, emergency housing policies have specifically targeted young people (see Annex A). In France, since February 2021, young workers under the age of 25 who have been employed for less than 18 months can benefit from a financial installation allowance of EUR 1 000 to support payments for housing. To be eligible, employees also have to prove it is their first home and earn a salary of less than EUR 1 400 per month. In the United States, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated USD 20 million to support rental payments for young people who were formerly in foster care.

Many OECD countries have provided more accommodation for homeless people during the COVID‑19 crisis. Even where action to address homelessness had been slow, countries were swift to respond, seeing homelessness as a public health emergency – addressing homelessness was seen as important not only to those directly affected, but also to contain the spread of the COVID‑19 pandemic (Parsell, Clarke and Kuskoff, 2020[20]). Support measures included, inter alia, additional funding (to service providers or to individuals); increased shelter and accommodation for the homeless; adapted shelter provisions (including longer opening hours; adjusted capacity levels; additional services; etc.); expanded service provision to the homeless; the establishment of quarantine facilities; and the provision of advice (OECD, 2021[21]). In most cases, these efforts have not specifically targeted young people, although there are a few exceptions. In response to the COVID‑19 crisis, the Netherlands allocated EUR 200 million to tackle homelessness, and in The Hague, in February 2021, the local government implemented a new plan to eliminate homelessness among young people, contributing to the national Youth Homelessness Action Plan for 2019‑21.

Young people have borne a disproportionate brunt of the labour market and social implications of the COVID‑19 crisis, and especially so for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Recognising the need for early action, especially in light of the late and insufficient response in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, most OECD governments have responded with targeted youth measures since the start of the pandemic.

Labour market measures to support young people in finding and keeping jobs and work-based learning opportunities amidst the COVID‑19 crisis have been frequently deployed. Job retention schemes have helped to protect their jobs, and financial incentives to recruit and retain apprentices and young people in full-time positions have been strengthened or newly introduced in many OECD countries.

Policy responses beyond labour market support have been more varied and less comprehensive. While broad emergency income support has been implemented by most OECD countries, often to the benefit of young people, only around half of OECD countries have introduced targeted income support for young people and measures remain limited in scope. Similar observations can be made for mental health. While more than half of the OECD countries have put in place initiatives or new funding to support young people’s mental health, given the scale of the challenge, greater investments and integrated policy action will be needed.


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This annex includes descriptions of policy responses by countries to support young people through the COVID‑19 crisis. Descriptions based on responses from 37 OECD countries to a questionnaire sent to country representatives of the Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee in February 2021. Where possible, information has been updated with the most recent policy responses up to May 2021. Upon publication of this policy brief, this annex will be made available on an online webpage. The tables were also used as a basis to prepare a dashboard summarising policy responses, and the criteria for inclusion in the dashboard is elaborated under each section. The dashboard is merely descriptive, and offers no judgment on specific measures, and should thus not be used alone to assess whether country responses to support young people in the COVID‑19 crisis have been sufficient or effective.

Annex Table 1 includes descriptions of youth strategies that existed prior to the crisis, as well as strategies and plans that have been newly developed in response to or during the pandemic. For member states of the European Union, information on implementation plans for the reinforced Youth Guarantee are provided where appropriate. For countries where youth policy strategies take place at the sub-national level, consideration was given to regional youth plans and strategies. As youth policy cuts across ministries and sectors, only countries with cross-sectoral and operational youth strategies or plans are marked with a check symbol (✔) in the dashboard of policy responses. Countries that are currently developing or elaborating a new youth strategy or plan are marked with a dot symbol (●). For example, countries that had youth strategies until 2020, but have not begun working on a new youth strategy are left blank, as are countries that only have youth strategies for one sector or ministry (e.g. employment).

Annex Table 2 includes descriptions of measures taken in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic to support the incomes of young people. Descriptions primarily refer to emergency and temporary income support designed to alleviate financial insecurity during the pandemic, but also include specific reforms to strengthen and provide additional income support for young people during the pandemic and beyond. These measures include interventions to increase accessibility to benefits (such as unemployment insurance) for young people, financial aid targeted at young people who lost their jobs due to the COVID‑19 crisis, and measures to reduce debt repayments or the financial burden of tuition fees. Increases in child and family benefits or allowances are not included in the table, as these forms of income support are primarily provided to parents and not to young people directly. Countries that have put in place any of these youth-specific measures since the start of the COVID‑19 crisis, which vary in scale and form, are marked with a check symbol (✔) in the dashboard of policy responses.

Annex Table 3 includes descriptions of hiring subsidies and financial incentives for employers to recruit young people in full-time or long-term positions and standard forms of employment. For this category, measures that were in place before the crisis are also included, and for such measures, a comment is provided on whether the measures have been extended or adapted in response to the pandemic, or whether they have been left unchanged. Further insights into which countries put in place new schemes, and which countries have not adjusted measures can be gleaned from the accompanying policy brief. Countries that have hiring subsidies or financial incentives in place for employers to recruit young people, regardless of whether these existed before the crisis or not, are marked with a check symbol (✔) in the dashboard of policy responses.

Annex Table 4 includes descriptions of measures taken by countries in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic to support, adjust or strengthen work-based learning opportunities for young people, which can include apprenticeships, informal on-the‑job learning, internships and work placements. For this category, descriptions of measures to financially incentivise the recruitment of apprentices or cases where the apprenticeship system is supported by public expenditure are also included. In cases where measures existed before the crisis, a comment is provided on whether the measures have been extended or adapted in response to the pandemic, or whether they have been left unchanged. Countries that have strengthened their apprenticeship system or other work-based learning schemes since the start of the COVID‑19 crisis are marked with a check symbol (✔) in the dashboard of policy responses.

Annex Table 5 includes descriptions of measures taken to strengthen public and private employment services for young people in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic, with consideration for measures taken at the regional or sub-national level. This overview encompasses both measures to increase outreach and visibility of services to young people as well as the development or enhancement of training and job search programmes for young people. Only measures specific to young people, or where young people have been clearly identified as a target group, are included. For example, shifts to provision of employment services from in-person to virtual settings are not included in the descriptions below, unless these measures are targeted specifically at young people, given that this adjustment applies to all age groups. Countries that have strengthened the employment services provided to young people since the start of the COVID‑19 crisis are marked with a check symbol (✔) in the dashboard of policy responses.

Annex Table 6 includes descriptions of measures taken by countries in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic to increase the provision of mental health services of young people, to raise awareness of mental health among young people, or where allocation of funding specifically for young people can be identified. Only measures specific to young people, or where young people have been clearly identified as a target group, are included. For example, the expansion of mental health services or the setup of new mental health or crisis hotlines are not included in the descriptions, unless these measures are specific to young people. Measures to strengthen child and adolescent mental health services are also considered youth-specific. Only countries where explicit measures have been taken to increase access to mental health services for young people or financing has been allocated to support young people’s mental health since the start of the COVID‑19 crisis are marked with a check symbol (✔) in the dashboard of policy responses.

Annex Table 7 includes descriptions of measures taken by countries in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic to support young people in staying in their homes through measures such as rent deferrals and freezing of utility bills, as well as measures to accommodate homeless young people into safe housing. Since emergency housing measures taken by countries have rarely targeted young people as explained in the accompanying policy brief, no column for housing measures was included in the dashboard.

This brief was written by Shunta Takino and Veerle Miranda. It was prepared in the OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, under the senior leadership of Stefano Scarpetta (Director), Mark Pearson (Deputy Director) and Monika Queisser (Head of Social Policy).


Stefano SCARPETTA (✉

Monika QUEISSER (✉

Veerle MIRANDA (✉

Shunta TAKINO (✉


← 1. This brief accompanies the update of the OECD Youth Action Plan (OECD, 2021[22]), which provides the building blocks for improving support in key areas, and the policy brief on Young people’s concerns during COVID‑19: Results from Risks That Matter 2020 (OECD, 2021[3]), which sets out the findings of young people’s concerns and policy preferences based on a cross-national survey covering 25 OECD countries. The mental health impacts of the COVID‑19 crisis on young people and the necessary policy responses are covered in the policy brief from May 2021 on Supporting young people’s mental health through the COVID‑19 crisis and beyond (OECD, 2021[7]). Further analysis of the impact of the COVID‑19 crisis on young people’s labour market outcomes and employment prospects is provided in the OECD Employment Outlook 2021 (OECD, 2021[2]).

← 2. Unless otherwise stated, the information included on policy responses by OECD countries is based on a questionnaire sent to country representatives of the Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee in February 2021. 37 OECD countries provided responses. Detailed policy responses are available in Annex A. Descriptions of policy responses to support young people through the COVID‑19 crisis.

← 3. Countries that had youth strategies covering multiple policy areas from before the crisis are also included as an existing strategy may be sufficient to guide youth policy during the COVID‑19 crisis.


This paper is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD. The opinions expressed and the arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD member countries.

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

© OECD 2021

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