1980s recession was worse for young people

In the 1980s, 26% of 16-24 year olds were not in full-time education and either unemployed or economically inactive. The current figure is 21%, or 1.6 million.

There has been much recent discussion, from both opposition parties, of ‘record’ levels of youth unemployment. But given that the records being referred to only began in 1992 – and that we are currently in the first recessionary period since they started – this is hardly surprising. However, data from the 1980s do exist* and they show that while youth unemployment is an urgent problem today, it was much worse then.

The earliest official unemployment figures we have found are from 1984, three years after that decade’s recession ended. They reveal that more than a quarter (26 per cent) of 16-24 year olds were not in full-time education and either unemployed or economically inactive – some 2.1 million young people not in work or training.

While this recession has seen the greatest GDP falls on record, comparable figures for July to September 2009 show that there are currently 1.6 million young people who are without a job and not in full-time education, around one in five (21 per cent) of the young workforce. Youth unemployment now is far too high – but in the 1980s it was allowed to rise unchecked and more young people and communities suffered.

Tackling youth unemployment should be any Government’s top priority – and the current situation is a cause for great concern. Long-term worklessness, particularly for young people, is proven to have scarring affects which place people at a higher risk of future unemployment, lower earnings and health problems, reduce local demand and consequent job creation, increase social problems and costs and reduce tax revenues. This is why continued investment in the Future Jobs Fund, a programme that promises young people real work paid at least the minimum wage and provides a far better chance than workfare models of preventing long-term worklessness, is vital. Scrapping it, as some have proposed, would be a social and economic disaster – the experience of the 1980s makes starkly clear what happens when Governments fail to invest.

* For those with a technical interest the series is annual and is not seasonally adjusted.

Our guest writer is Nicola Smith, Senior Policy Officer at the TUC

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13 Responses to “1980s recession was worse for young people”

  1. Billy Blofeld

    Young People will feel the pain of the recession for longer and harder than their peers in the 1980’s.

    In vast numbers, Young People have been stuffed into University and Colleges. As they finish their courses they too will enter the dole queue. There are not enough jobs calling for “inexperienced people” to go around.

    Gordon has stuffed up the nations finances, thus if Young People find work, they will be taxed more than their 80’s equivalent. Taxed more for year and years and years.

    As the young feel the pain of Gordon’s 12 year madness spree, no doubt they’ll forget who was the cause of the problems and seek to blame the government of the day.

  2. Tim Connor

    This is a disgraceful post. Really vile.

  3. Swagata

    The young always get messed with. In the 1980s it was pointless YTA schemes, today it’s debt-laden degree courses. And that’s before people start work. Thanks to the UK’s supremely flexible labour market, when some find work it can be part-time or even the disgraceful “zero hours contract” (google it!).

  4. CVRepublic

    1980s recession was worse for young people (Left Foot Forward) http://url4.eu/w49M

  5. Anon E Mouse

    Tim Connor – It’s called open debate – free speech and if you think this is “Really vile” you need to develop a thicker skin.

    I assume Nicola Smith must know her stuff – it says she is the Senior Policy Officer at the TUC – so before you disagree with her outright, why don’t you try posting something more constructive than your comments which really are just how you feel about an article.

    What contribution to this blog do your criticisms make really? Personally I think this woman raises some interesting points.

  6. willstraw

    Well said, Anon.

    Tim – What’s so disgraceful? Pointing out that things were worse in the 1980s or saying that this is no excuse for complacency?

  7. Youth unemployment, now vs the 80s | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC

    […] unemployment, now vs the 80s Posted at 4:30 pm on 15 Dec 09 by Nicola Smith I’ve written a guest post at Left Foot Forward today – looking at what is happening with youth unemployment now compared to the […]

  8. Nicola Smith

    Thanks all for the comments. I absolutely agree there are real problems for young people in the labour market just now – while we welcome increased levels of training, poorer progression opportunities for young people with lower skills and a reduction in jobs in the middle of the income spectrum are real concerns for the TUC, as are increasing levels of household debt and reduced security at work.

    But I also think it’s important to recognise that policy responses now are a significant improvement on those we saw in the 1980s. A paid job that incorporates training opportunities with experience is some distance away from a YTS scheme, and there is evidence to suggest that Government policy is playing at least a part in limiting the extent of the increases we’ve seen in unemployment.

  9. Swagata

    I’m glad you see the improvements since the 1980s, after all that was a quarter of a century ago. I suspect the schemes on offer in 1985 were an improvement on those in 1960, and that those in 1960 were superior to 1935 etc.

  10. Osborne calls for "honest debate" while manipulating the facts | Left Foot Forward

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  13. Richard Thompson

    The people at the top probably think the unemployed young people from back then have short memories as well

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