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Discussion paper

Coming of age in a crisis: young workers, COVID-19, and the Youth Guarantee

Youth unemployment Employment forecasting Work insecurity Labour market Australia

Australian labour force data for May shows that, for the first time since the Great Depression, almost two in three young workers do not have enough work to meet their needs.

With nation-wide unemployment rising by almost 4% and underemployment increasing by almost 5% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on young workers has been particularly dire. More than 290,000 people between the age of 15 and 24 have dropped out of the labour market entirely. Not only have they lost what work they had, they have given up looking for a job entirely.

Well before this crisis took hold, employment conditions for young people in Australia were grim. Young workers are by far the most likely to suffer from insecure work, with low wages and unstable hours.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the recession that has followed in its wake have smashed what little job security there was for young people in Australia. Industries hit the hardest by the economic shut-down, such as food services, hospitality, retail and the arts, are big employers of young Australians, who make up almost half of the workforce in these low-income industries.

This paper argues for a bold new approach to tackling youth unemployment and insecure work. Policy reform in the areas of employment services, education and training, active labour market programs, social procurement, apprenticeships and graduate employment programs, and private sector training levies are needed to address what has become a wicked problem for young workers in Australia.

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