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Sustainable Development Goal 8

There cannot be decent work for all without decent work for youth

Young people are our hope for a better future, but targeted policies are needed to address the disadvantages they face in the labour market.

Comment | 08 August 2023
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 aims to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. What does ‘all’ mean? Are there groups that are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to finding decent work? Yes, today’s youth – the best educated young generation ever and our hope for a better future – is the age group that finds it hardest to land decent work.

In 2022 – the latest data available – 15–24-year-olds made up about 21 per cent of the total working-age population. Yet they constituted less than 13 per cent of the total number of employed people. The unemployment figures were even more stark. Thirty-three per cent of the total unemployed were young people.

Youth are also more likely to be in “bad” jobs. They are, for example, twice as likely as adult workers to live in extreme poverty – that is, on less than US$1.90 per day in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms*.

They are also far more likely to be informally employed, with little or no social protection. According to the latest available data on youth in informal employment, the youth informality rate was 78 per cent in 2021, compared to 58 per cent for adults.

Moreover, in times of crisis, youth suffer disproportionately and recover more slowly than other age groups. We saw this during the COVID-19 crisis and continue to see this during the current ‘polycrisis’ – the multiple and compounding challenges the world is facing, such as climate change, conflicts, and high inflation globally.

A recent ILO policy brief asked, Has youth employment recovered? It concluded that the crisis period has eased on many levels, but youth labour markets have not yet fully bounced back. This is especially true in low-income and middle-income economies, especially in the Arab States, East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

In 2022, at the global level, almost a quarter of the world’s youth were not in education, employment, or training (NEET). This is over half a percentage point above the pre-COVID-19 level, and equivalent to about 289 million young people.

Young women are even more likely to be NEET than young men. Though gender gaps in NEET rates have fallen over the past 16 years, the female youth NEET rate is still more than double the male rate (at 32 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, in 2022). The gap is largely a result of gender-based inequalities in labour market participation.

Decent work for all can only be achieved, through a coherent approach that brings together macroeconomic, sectoral, skills, and social policies within one framework, informed by dialogue between governments, employers’ and workers’ representatives. Labour market institutions need to be strengthened to ease transitions into and within labour markets.

However, we cannot expect that such policies will automatically trickle down to disadvantaged groups. Given their unique needs and vulnerabilities, reaching them requires targeted interventions. This is imperative if we are to deliver on SDG 8, as there cannot be decent work for all without decent work for all young people.

By Dibyaudh Das, Junior Technical Officer, Employment, Labour Markets and Youth Branch (EMPLAB), EMPLOYMENT Department


* Purchasing power parity provides a meaningful comparison of standards of living across countries.