THIS month's drop in unemployment figures, with the Scottish rate of 8.1% now slightly lower than the UK average of 8.3%, prompted a spate of cautiously optimistic assessments of the economic outlook.
Today's analysis by the Scottish Trades Unions Congress (STUC) shows that optimism is premature and, far from than caution, a sense of urgency is required to provide more permanent jobs for young people.
Looking at the number of 18-24-year-olds claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) a year reveals that long-term unemployment among 18-24-year-olds has risen by 1250% over the last four years. The devastating reality is that 5210 young Scots are currently out of work and have been living on benefit for over a year. The addition of 1645 to this group in only three months between December 2011 and March 2012 is gloomy confirmation of the experience of young jobseekers that they are among the last to benefit from any growth in the economy.
Shocking as these figures are, they represent only part of the picture. In addition to the 5210 long-term unemployed young people, a further 15,325 have been claiming JSA for at least six months. It is also evident, in bars, restaurants and shops throughout the country, that large numbers of graduates are working in low-paid, temporary and part-time jobs. This is confirmed by Citizens Advice Scotland's survey of recent graduates, which found that as well as the 18.9% who were unemployed in the final quarter of 2011, 36% of those in work were in low-level employment.
They, like 25-year-old graduate Georgina Wardrop, who will address the STUC today and who are the underemployed: the growing number of people seeking full-time jobs but who don't show up in the unemployment statistics because they are in part-time work or patching together short-term contracts.
Both the UK and Scottish Governments have instigated a number of measures to tackle youth unemployment, including increasing the number of apprenticeships, sponsoring six-month contracts with employers and guaranteeing training places for all 16-19-year-olds. Welcome as these are, the persistent rise in high levels of youth unemployment show they are a drop in the ocean compared with the growing need. There is now a generation of young people, who not only fear they will become the "lost generation" but who, like Mark Cooper, who has had only one short-term contract since graduating, feel betrayed because having worked to gain qualifications, they find a degree is no longer a ticket to a job, even it is backed by unpaid work experience, demonstrating commitment, or low-paid work, demonstrating an ability to tackle unsavoury tasks.
Scotland has suffered a far higher rise in long-term youth unemployment compared with other nations in the UK. Unless meaningful jobs are made available to young people, it is inevitable that they will look elsewhere, depriving Scotland of a wealth of talent. Improvement in the employment statistics inevitably lags behind growth in the economy but action must be taken to increase the number of jobs for young people if rising unemployment is not to become the timebomb that shatters the UK economy's fragile growth.
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