Youth unemployment: when one in five isn’t one in five

It normally sounds pretty obvious – you work out the unemployment rate by looking at the number of people in work and the number of people seeking work. But sometimes that leads to rather odd figures, as today’s youth unemployment figures demonstrate.

The Guardian’s headline, One in five young people out of work (headline used on Guardian news page; there’s a longer slightly different headline on the story itself), s pretty typical.

But take your way to page 36, Table 14 and look at the raw numbers and it looks rather different.

Number of 16-24 year-olds: 7,337,000.
Number of 16-24 year-olds unemployed: 963,000

In other words, that looks more like a 13% unemployment rate than a 20% one.

The reason for the difference? It’s predominantly the large number of 16-24 year olds who are economically inactive because they are in education. There are 2,610,000 economically inactive in this age group. Take that away from the total number of 16-24 year-olds and you get the 20% rather than 13% unemployment rate.

At one level, the 20% unemployment rate is the ‘correct’ figure to quote and you can see why the Office of National Statistics quotes it – because ignoring the economically inactive is the usual way these figures are calculated.

But when you change the language around as The Guardian did (and plenty of other media outlets also do) to phrases such as “20% of young people out of work” and that’s no longer accurate.

No surprise perhaps that someone in the ONS press office said to me today that this is an issue that keeps on coming up in queries with them. But so far at least, whilst the ONS numbers are right the way they get presented in the media often isn’t.

(And yes, 13% is still a number that should be brought down. But if you think there’s not much of an issue between saying 20% or 13% ask yourself this: supposing the figures had always been calculated in the way that gave 20% and the government proposed changing the method of calculation to the 13% one. Would you say ‘ah, no big deal’?).

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31 Comments

  • Yeah, and I’m sure you would’ve written this article had the Lib Dems’ fingerprints not been all over these unemployment figures. 13% youth unemployment is a national scandal, and it’s being made worse by this government’s axing of public-sector jobs before the private sector is ready to pick up the slack, the axing of the Future Jobs Fund, the 65% cut to EMA, the trebling of tuition fees and the imminent cut in student numbers to pay for said rise in fees.

  • The media’s comprehension of statistics is terrible across the board – there isn’t necessarily an agenda to it.

  • “Martijn: Ssssssh! Don’t tell Dan – otherwise he’ll rumble that More or Less must have been infiltrated by the crack undercover Lib Dem media team, for why else might they have any interest in this topic either?”

    More or Less is a show based on statistical analysis. This is supposed to be a general political commentary site. The fact that all you have to say about youth unemployment being at a record high (however you measure it) is a technical gripe about the way the data is calculated, speaks volumes. I don’t challenge your assertion; I just think it’s clearly not the big issue here.

  • Youth unemployment was rising under the previous labour government.
    they tried to hide the fact that young people were unable to get jobs by bribing them to go to college – that might have been a good idea if the young people had been given advice on which courses to choose to make them more likely to be employed at the end of it but that didnt happen.

    The facts are with automation, the desire that any employee must have experience and the general shortage of jobs available the employment market is becoming increasingly brutal and we need to tackle employers about why it is as bad as it is.

    There is another point however and that is that having both interviewed and worked with many of the young people today very few of them have any initiative or desire to put effort into any task that they are set.

  • Ian James:
    Youth unemployment was rising under the previous labour government.
    they tried to hide the fact that young people were unable to get jobs by bribing them to go to college – that might have been a good idea if the young people had been given advice on which courses to choose to make them more likely to be employed at the end of it but that didnt happen.

    A less cynical explanation for this is that Labour recognised that increasing the skillset of unemployed youths increased their employment chances and benefitted the country as a whole. Do Lib Dems not share this aim?

  • @g

    Name a way in which taking a media or film studies course at the local collage whilst “opening your mind” with illegal narcotics actually benefits someone’s skill set? This is basically what half the people I went to school with ended up doing. People my age got so little from school. I even had to teach myself grammar for goodness sake!

    Face it; our young people have been sorely let down. Some are even less qualified, less useful, than migrants who don’t speak a word of our language. This problem will take a decade or more to put right and even then we’ll face a lost generation.

  • Charles:
    Name a way in which taking a media or film studies course at the local collage whilst “opening your mind” with illegal narcotics actually benefits someone’s skill set? This is basically what half the people I went to school with ended up doing. People my age got so little from school. I even had to teach myself grammar for goodness sake!

    Well firstly, the Lib Dem position is still for reform of Britain’s drug laws, including considering the merits of decriminalisation, isn’t it?

    Secondly, media studies students demonstrate higher than average levels of employment!

    Six months after graduation, Art and Design, Media Studies and Performing Arts graduates were demonstrating higher than average rates of employment with all at least two percentage points about the national average of 57.6%.

    This of course is hardly unusual given the strength of Britain’s media sector. Bit surprised though you’d follow the right wing press lie over useless degrees. I thought Lib Dems were better than this?

  • g what would be the best solution would be if we had a properly structured further and higher education sector instead of the poly easily shambles we now have. Too many people doing courses to which they are ill suited, and with unrealistic expectations of the outcome. Meanwhile university staff having to deal with both chaff and wheat leading inevitably to less time for the wheat.

  • Tabman,

    Could you provide some evidence that FE & HE needed restructuring?

    Because what you’ve written sounds like uninformed rhetoric based on talking points from the Daily Mail and Telegraph.

  • Charles – What a thoroughly nasty view of the young.

    ‘“opening your mind” with illegal narcotics actually benefits someone’s skill set? This is basically what half the people I went to school with ended up doing.’

    Do you not hold out the possibility that maybe you need a different social circle?

    Media and film studies always seems to be the whipping-boy and your hasty reference to it makes me wonder if yours is a rather unthinking post. If anything your thinking is 10+ years behind the curve. Back in the early 1990s, before media studies took off, the ‘whipping boy’ subject at GCSE at least was business studies ( I took it!), before that Sociology. Of course, the answer is always much simpler. That viewed from the perspective of my sister (who took media studies) the media was likely to be a growth area and that AT THE TIME media studies was rational as a choice. It worked for her.

    What is more worying is that it seems to be becoming common currency on the bully pulpit that is the internet that plumbing is the golden route to follow. Plumbing is very expensive to teach (given rises in copper prices) and fees are high. Actual workplace training opportunities, necessary after Level 1 are few and far between, tending to push costs even higher. In the past, new-builds were a training route, though these are almost at stand-still and have been for years. Following training there is then the need for additional training in even higher cost areas (solar panels) and the cost of a van and some very expensive tools, plus new start-ups don’t have the contacts, like roofers. This is one of the reasons for the high business failure rate in plumbing. My friends in plumbing tell me there is very little money in it for many, despite perceptions. This is one reason why there is an oversupply of people looking to teach plumbing – everyone is getting out and looking to secure teaching work. It is not a disimilar story in car mechanics. It’s like the idea that engineering and IT degrees are golden routes, despite these disciplines having relatively high unemployment rates. I mean IT here as opposed to computing, before anyone jumps on me.

    The truth is that in the past, the boomer generation had the benefit of mass employment in nationalised industry, with training. Everyone seems to forget why it is that the apprenticeship/nightschool system declined. Becasuse the state stopped subsidising it via nationalised industry and the private sector clearldydid not think it was producing results. The days of mass production line work are gone and making a whipping boy out of higher education and, ‘soft subjects’ is to deny that very plain fact.

    I tend to agree with Ian James, that the young today face a far harsher jobs market, though the prescriptions from the Coalition so far (internships) seem to me to be an affront, quite frankly.

    It really does not seem to matter to me whether the figure is 20% or 13% – we don’t need an argument about the figures, what we need is to look at job creation, be it in the media (look, by the way at the decline in jobs at local newspapers), industry, offices or elsewhere. Getting it all off your chest about subjects you don’t like is just deflecting from the bigger picture.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 14th Apr '11 - 10:13am

    Of course those in education/economically inactive should be excluded from the figures – otherwise politicians will go around claiming credit for full employment among 9 year olds and pensioners.

  • G my wife, who votes Labour, has experienced it for the last 20 years. All her views, not mine. She says first year is spent rectifying the gaps the from crappy schooling

  • Tabman, I’m not sure your wife is an appropriate reference to cite…

  • Tabman –

    There is a better argument there, one that no one seems to want. Soon, we will have compulsory education (not per se schooling) to 18. What therefore is the point of a generalised examination, and national curriculum to the age of 16?

    Why not just have a nationalised education curriculum to 14, then have a range of routes after that? It doesn’t get around the jobs problem, but it probably would cut down on people doing inappropriate courses. It is worth noting here that the ludicrous Ebac suggests that Gove regards the GCSE and league tables as essential.

  • Duncan completely agree re curriculum to 14. I’d go further and have it as leaving age balanced by right to return at any age for remaining four years.

    G she’s better qualified to comment than you are.

  • Tabman, i have to say that, unlike your wife, I probably wouldn’t sleep with you, but I’m not sure what bearing this has on our respective qualifications.

  • G she works in HE

  • Duncan, I’m 21. I’m one of the young. I went to a bog standard comprehensive and then a more gentrified sixth form and then university. I’ve met and studied with a vast section of society. In my junior school there were kids on cannabis and in one case heroin. At sixth form and university many of my peers have been people who get given brand new cars for birthday.

    What I’ve seen is subjects like Media, Film and yes Business studies are incredibly popular but that they don’t necessarily stretch people in the right way. The guys I knew from top set English and took Media and Film studies either dropped out from boredom or became disengaged from academia, getting an A in their study and C’s in their more academic subjects. A friend of mine got three A’s in Sociology, Chemistry, and Biology, but guess which one she said was a doss? I’ve heard Psychology was harder to pass but only because it required learning a dozen essays off by heart.

    There’s so much lost potential in our system by failing to stretch people. Those drop outs from the top set have ended up taking entry level jobs when they should be being trained to become professionals, we’re shuffling people down the job scale instead of up. Its no wonder youth unemployment and social mobility is such a problem.

  • Omnishambles 14th Apr '11 - 11:02am

    I’m afraid I don’t have time to look it up, but what is the regional breakdown of these figures?

  • Hi Charles, care to engage with my point that media studies degree recipients have better chance of employment?

    Tabman, so do I.

  • g – well then you should accept the evidence of your own eyes.

    What is required is a return to the system we had prior to 1992 when the Tories wrecked it:

    – FE/HE colleges to train people in practical skills
    – Polytechnics that provide intensive and thorough graduate-level vocational degrees
    – Universities that provide rigorous academic education in non-practical subjects

    And all the above open to anyone who has the right qualifications to gain entry.

    What we have is an unalloyed mishmash of Polyversities that are neither fish nor fowl.

    The big mistake was to pretend (as was the case with grammars and comprehensives) that turning polytechnics into universities would mean more universities. It hasn”t – we still have the Russell Group and we’ve lost a centre of excellence in vocational degrees.

  • Tabman – (with respect) you are looking back at good old days that never were. To be clear, I am not saying that the current situation is satisfactory, but looking back to a golden age that never was helps no one.

    FE/HE Colleges still train people, but there are huge problems (see my comment above on plumbing). And even if we train X thousand plumbers, it still doesn’t in itself create jobs. People graduating from the old polys still faced employment difficulty. Ending the old binary divide was not the problem, the problem with the 1992 reforms was that it was an expansion of a system of research that did not need expanding, hence no jobs created in itself. Some polys were good, some less so – but was it really a golden age? And if the current agenda is to cut costs, a return to the binary divide would not in itself do that.

    What are 16 year old school leavers supposed to do? Head down to the local nationalised factory like the boomers did?

    By the way, the Russell Group is not at all like the US ivy league. There are some excellent academic institutions in the 1994 group. Just a bugbear of mine.

  • Duncan – I’m not saying the pre-1992 situation was perfect, but broadly speaking the structure was correct. We need to return to something similar to that structure (but more oriented to the present day). But we can’t stop there – it also requires wholesale reworking of the end to end system. There needs to be more specialism and more transferability to ensure that people are able best to find what works for them and get a more focussed and meaningful educational experience at each stage in the process.

  • Tabman,

    g – well then you should accept the evidence of your own eyes.

    Seriously, is that the best you’ve got? Telling me to hold a different opinion? No stats? No official reports? No evidence for your assertions other than your wife’s opinion, on which I differ?

  • If Media Studies graduates attain above average employment then I’m mildly impressed, but not very impressed because frankly 57% is still a poor figure. I’m doing engineering and looking at a much better likelihood of finding a job and the people I know in the Sciences are also looking at better chances. Some of the people on my course have already found jobs and we’re only in the second year.

  • Charles – Figures from HESCU, quoted in THES 1/11/10

    ‘Media-studies graduates were also struggling, with a jobless rate of 14.6 per cent, as were those entering construction and engineering, particularly within architecture and building, mechanical engineering and civil engineering (10.9 per cent, 11.8 per cent and 11.9 per cent respectively).’

  • David Evershed 19th Apr '11 - 12:19pm

    The Guardian is very much anti Lib Dem.

    It used to be balanced with its news and non political.

    But nowadays it brings opinions into news reporting and its editorial line is currently very anti Lib Dem, presumably because they resent Lib Dems forming a coalition with the Conservatives rather than Labour.

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