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21st Aug 2017

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EU states must act on youth poverty

  • Spain is particularly tough for young workers, with many taking low quality jobs because of a lack of other opportunities. (Photo: keith ellwood)

Youth campaigners have urged EU states to rethink the culture of “jobs at any cost”, after the International Labour Organisation (ILO) highlighted the proportion of working young people at risk of poverty.

The ILO said in a report that Europeans between 18 and 24 years old did not suffer from high unemployment, but many still faced "relative poverty" because the jobs they took on were comparatively badly paid.

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“In developed countries, there is growing evidence over the past couple of decades of a shift in the age distribution of poverty, with youth taking the place of the elderly as the group at greatest risk of living in poverty,” said the report, World Employment and Social Outlook 2016: Trends for Youth.

The ILO, a UN agency, regards workers paid less than 60 percent of the median wage as facing relative poverty.

Among the worst offenders were Romania, where 35 percent of employed youngsters were at risk of relative poverty, Sweden (22 percent), Spain (21 percent) and Greece (20 percent).

The ILO suggested that the problems stemmed from the type of employment on offer, which was often temporary or part time.

“These forms of employment are often associated with lower wages, limited access to training, slow career advancement and lower levels of social protection, all of which combine to undermine youth prospects in the labour market and their income potential,” said the report.

Vicious cycle

The report also showed that many young Europeans were taking jobs that they did not want.

More than one-third of youngsters in the EU in temporary work – jobs that may be full-time but with contracts that are short-term – took their jobs because they could not find permanent employment.

That figure exceeded two-thirds in Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Portugal and Spain.

Meanwhile, of those in part-time work, more than 70 percent in Italy and Romania took jobs because of a lack of other opportunities. Greece and Spain both registered more than 60 percent.

“Such high incidence of involuntary part-time employment is closely linked to the fact that youth in this form of employment are more likely to live in poverty despite having a job,” the report said.

Clementine Moyart, a policy officer with the European Youth Forum, said the report's findings showed the limitations of the current approach focusing on getting young people into work without regard to the quality of jobs or contracts.

She said since the 2008 financial crisis, companies rely much more heavily on short-term contracts, often with poor conditions.

“The increase in the risk of poverty and social exclusion is linked to poor quality of contracts – there is no good safety net for young people,” she told EUobserver.

She urged policymakers to think more broadly than youth unemployment and consider other factors such as social exclusion and access to benefits, which are often very difficult for young people to obtain.

“When they lose this contract they don't have anything at all,” she said, trapping them in a "vicious cycle of bad quality employment".

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The European Commission proposes a €341-million budget to get unemployed people into volunteering activities or traineeships that “promote solidarity” in their own countries or abroad.

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