The latest unemployment numbers show the jobless rate in Australia declined last month from a 12-year high in July.
But for young Australians aged 15 to 24, the unemployment rate remains stuck at close to 15 per cent. And though it may be hard to believe, Australia has seen much worse than that in the past.
More than three decades ago, in 1982, some 270,000 young Australians aged 15 to 24 were unemployed. That is about the same number of young jobless as there is now.
But back then, Australia had 8 million fewer people. The key difference is that now, the participation rate – the number of young people actively looking for work – is smaller.
Professor Phil Lewis, director of the Centre for Labour Market research at the University of Canberra, says over the decades, more young Australians have finished high school and gone on to study at TAFE or university.
“The participation rate for young people has been going down consistently over time,” he said.
And that means as a percentage, fewer young people are in the job market.
“The number left wanting to participate in the labour force has actually been shrinking as a percent of the total population,” Professor Lewis said.
Professor Lewis’s point is not so much that youth unemployment today is not serious, it is more like a problem Australia has struggled with for decades.
“We have to be very careful,” he said.
“I’m not belittling the problem. We saw it coming in the ’70s and ’80s, and very little’s been done about it.”
Of course, the fact Australia experienced higher levels of youth unemployment in the past is no comfort to those now struggling to get young people jobs.
Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said unemployment rates of 20 per cent for young people in some areas may actually significantly underestimate the real scope of the problem.
“When we look at our economy we can see an increased casualisation of the workforce,” Ms Yeomans.
“We may be able to find people in employment but they are simply not getting the hours they need.”
In short, Ms Yeomans said the numbers do not tell the full story.
Eighteen-year-old jobseekers like Daniel Kirk would be happy for even part time work. He left school a year early, planning to work for 12 months before focusing on a training course.
His job hunt has been underway now for eight months, and so far there is nothing.
“Before starting work for the dole, I was doing the jobseeker diaries, doing those quotas, so all up getting up to 100 jobs,” he said.
“I haven’t even gotten as far as interviews.”
Like hundreds of thousands of other young people, he does not really have a choice. He will keep searching.
“You don’t really realise how hard it is to find a job when you’re unemployed until you have to find one,” he said.
“The problem is everyone’s looking for experience in their fields, and at my age you just don’t have that.”
news source & image credit: abc.net.au