The Discouraged, the Idle: Neither Working, Studying, Training Nor Searching for Work

Many of the potential beneficiaries in better job matching may be hidden in developing countries or staying out of the labor market for other reasons. This goes well beyond the label of “discouraged” workers the term given in the advanced countries for those who have stopped looking when there are very few jobs, as during the height of the 2009-10 financial crisis. More than voluntarily discouraged, women’s labor force participation varies markedly around the globe, and is particularly constrained culturally in the Middle East and North Africa.

Of particular recent concern has been the young in the developing world, particularly the rise of those who appear in statistics to be neither working, nor studying, nor in training nor searching for work. It even has a statistical name - NEET - neither in education, employment or training. Labor force participation for youth is down everywhere in the world apart from Sub-Saharan Africa. It is particularly low in the Middle East (31%) and North Africa (34%), but dropped 20 points in the last 25 years in East Asia to 55%.17 In many cases, particularly in East Asia, youth in education are thus not working which is a good sign for the future labor market. Others may be in caretaker roles, particularly women; while others are ill or disabled. But the phenomenon has grown and cannot be easily explained by these factors. It has taken on different regional dimensions with concerns about the growing “idleness” of youth or their potential participation in illicit drug trades. In higher-income families, particularly in the high-income countries of the Middle East, these can include young people discouraged from the job market who can afford to live at home but are angry about it, or women raising families where both their home work and their labor market participation has limited value. Labor force participation for young women in the Middle East was only 13.8% in 2014, compared to over 50% in East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.18 Global concern was so united that substantially reducing the number of young people neither in education, training or employment was made a target of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (target 6.5).

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