Statistics for employment and unemployment have traditionally been used to describe labour markets, providing data on people who have a job and those who are actively looking for one. However, an analysis of the labour market participation of younger people is somewhat different, especially when:
• a large proportion of young people are still attending school, college, university, other higher education establishment or training, and;
• another group of young people are neither in employment (unemployed or economically inactive), nor in education or training (NEETs).
The share of young people neither in employment nor in education and training ((NEETs)) is an indicator that measures the proportion of a given subpopulation who are not employed and not involved in any further education or training; these people may be subdivided into those who are unemployed and those who are considered economically inactive (in other words, they do not have a job and they are not actively seeking employment).
The NEET rate for young people is closely linked to economic performance and the business cycle.
With a record number of NEETs following the financial and economic crisis, there have been concerns among policymakers that a whole generation of young people in the EU could remain out of the labour market for years to come. The implications of this are two-fold: on a personal level, these individuals are more likely to become disenfranchised and to suffer from poverty and social exclusion, while at a macro-economic level they represent a considerable loss in terms of unused productive capacity.
While the NEET rate for young people in the EU rose by 0.7 percentage points between 2008 and 2017, the image above shows that over the same period there was a stronger reduction (-2.7 percentage points) in the proportion of young people who were employed and had completely left education or training. This was largely counterbalanced by an increase in the share of young people aged 20–34 who were in some form of education or training, including both those who spent their time exclusively in education and training and those who combined a job with education or training. This development may reflect a growing desire on the part of young people to obtain higher levels of qualification in the face of increased competition in labour markets, but may also reflect a lack of full-time employment opportunities during a period of economic downturn.
Across the EU Member States there was a wide variation in NEET rates in 2017. For people aged 20–34, the lowest rates in 2017 were below 10.0 % in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden; this was also the case in Iceland, Switzerland and Norway. There were 10 Member States that recorded NEET rates above the EU average of 17.2 %. Among these, by far the highest rates were recorded in Italy and Greece, where approximately one third of all young people aged 20–34 were neither in employment nor in education and training (29.5 % and 28.8 % respectively); there were also very high NEET rates in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (37.4 %), Turkey (33.4 %) and Montenegro (28.2 %).
A comparison between Italy and Sweden — the EU Member States with the highest and lowest NEET rates in 2017 — reveals that the proportion of young people who were NEETs was almost four times as high among young Italians as among young Swedes.