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A Lost Generation: Tackling the Rising Problem of Youth Unemployment

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There are some milestones nobody wants to take credit for, so don't expect any parades or glowing press releases when youth unemployment in the UK reaches one million.

The rise in unemployment is one of the worst effects of the current economic crisis. Some 23 million people are without a job in the EU, of whom 2.6 million live in the UK.

However, the situation is much worse for the under 25s. At 24%, the jobless rate for young people in the EU is twice as high as that for adults. Although the figure in the UK is slightly better with youth unemployment at 21.1%, when compared with the national average of 7.7% it's clear that young British workers are bearing the brunt of the problem. In addition, the 21.1% may disguise the fact that many are working as unpaid trainees, stuck in temporary jobs or working in positions that do not correspond to their education level. Finally, they have little experience they can parlay into better jobs nor the necessary savings to tide them over.

There are also long-terms risks. If young people are out of work or education for too long, it could create a so-called lost generation. Their lack of experience might make them unemployable once the economy gets going again. This would not only affect our competitiveness, but also put a group permanently outside our society. It's in all of our interest to ensure that as many young people as possible remain active.

With youth unemployment approaching two out of three young people in countries such as Greece (57%) it is clear an ambitious approach is needed.

Austria has shown the way forward in tackling the issue. The Central European country enjoys one of Europe's lowest youth unemployment rates at 8.7%, partly because it offers training to young people. And it is not the only country being proactive. Finland, another country with low youth unemployment, guarantees work to young people within three months of being unemployed. The European Parliament wants to introduce a more ambitious version of the programme across the EU.

In 2010 MEPs adopted a resolution calling for a European Youth Guarantee to give every young person who has been out of work for four months the right to a job, an apprenticeship, further training or a job combined with training. They have also called for a substantial part of the €82 billion of unspent EU structural funds to be used for projects for young people and for the launch of a European Quality Charter on Traineeships to avoid exploitation and ensure their educational value.

The European Commission has now responded by proposing a Youth Employment Initiative, with a budget of €6 billion for the period 2014-2020. The plan includes a youth guarantee but only for under 25s living in regions with a youth unemployment rate of above 25% in 2012. The EP's employment committee adopted on 22 April amendments to extend the guarantee to under 30s living in regions with a youth unemployment rate of above 20%, meaning many more people will qualify for help.

The initiative still needs to be approved by Parliament and the Council before it can become a reality. Although MEPs have welcomed the fact that the Commission has proposed something to tackle youth unemployment, they want to make the initiative more ambitious.

Infographic copyright European Parliament