Being out of work at a young age can be disastrous. It is associated with ‘scarring effects’ such as poorer mental and physical health, and you are more likely to be paid less and be welfare-dependent in later life. The average male wage penalty resulting from youth unemployment is £3,300 a year by the time someone reaches their 30s.
The latest NEET statistics, published this week, show a reduction in the number of young people not in education, training or work in England to 893,000, down nearly seven per cent on the same period a year ago.
While this is a welcome fall, it is no cause for celebration. The national picture masks far more worrying regional and local trends. For instance, 17.8 per cent of young people in the North East and West Midlands are NEET compared with just 12.8 per cent in the South West.
By digging a little deeper we also find stark differences between cities. Nearly one in four young people in Grimsby, Doncaster and Wigan are NEET. By contrast, the rate is less than one in 10 in Oxford, Aberdeen and York.
Of equal concern is the rise in long-term youth unemployment (defined as being out of work for six months or more), up by 2,000 in just one month. It is well known that young people tend to do worse during recessions as the youth job market is far more sensitive to cyclical changes.
But this is not just a recession-driven problem. Youth joblessness was rising well before the crisis hit. This deeper, structural problem means that even when the economy was booming in the early 2000s, around eight per cent of young people were reaching the age of 16 and becoming long-term NEET.
So, whilst badly needed, economic growth alone will not be enough to fix our crisis of youth unemployment. Tackling youth unemployment effectively requires addressing the structural and attitudinal barriers which are preventing our next generation from finding and staying in work.
This means radically improving the school-to-work transition so no young person falls through the cracks. It means preparing young people properly for the world of work through high-quality work experience and careers guidance. And, if a young person does struggle to find a job, it means ensuring that back-to-work support is far more tailored to meet their actual needs.
These are just some of the issues the CSJ is exploring as part of our Breakthrough Britain II research programme. It is only by taking this multi-pronged and joined-up approach that we stand any chance of helping those who need it most.