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High youth unemployment in the EU?
18 Dec, 2017

The UK is just average

Leavers say that Youth unemployment of 45% in Spain shows that Europe is not working. But the UK is just average for the figures that matter.

London 4 Europe Committee Member and former HM Treasury senior civil servant Michael Romberg looks at the figures in more depth.

Eurostat figures for 2016 show that the Youth Unemployment Rate in Spain was 44%, in Greece 47%. Four other countries had rates above 25%. The EU average was 19%, the UK 13%.

Although often misrepresented as such, these figures do not in fact show that nearly half the young people in Greece and Spain were unemployed.

The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed divided by the labour force (employed + self-employed + unemployed and looking for work). So yes for sure high youth unemployment is a sign of unhappiness as many people looking for a job struggle to find one. But many young people are not in the labour force. Often they are studying.

So statisticians also calculate the Youth Unemployment Ratio which is the unemployed divided by the total number in the age group.

These figures are therefore much lower: Spain still tops the list (15%), with Greece at 12%. Five other countries had rates above 10%, including Sweden and Finland who are often held up as exemplars for their active labour market policies. So these countries do have real problems, but they are smaller than the figures normally quoted would suggest. The EU average was 7.7%.

The UK came in at 7.6%. So it turns out that the UK is on the average for the EU. We were a little above average in 2013 to 2015, so our trend line has been improving faster than the EU average.

While some countries clearly do have problems, we should stop thinking that the UK is doing particularly well. On this measure we are just … average.