By Ben Simmons

People with more qualifications are less likely to be unemployed than those with fewer, whilst overall unemployment levels for young people are 1 in 5, the Office for Naitonal Statistics has today said.

In January-December 2011 around 26 % of 16-year-olds who had left school with only GCSEs were unemployed, as were 20 % of 18-year-olds who had left school with A-levels and 25 % of 21-year-olds who had left university with a degree. However, by the age of 24, 13 % of those with only GCSEs were unemployed, compared with 7 % of those who had left education with A-levels and just 5 % of those with a degree.

Reacting to the figures, Brenden Barber of the Trades Union Congress says that now is the moment to boost access to education, in order to enhance employability and social mobility, instead of slashing education budgets:

“Today's figures show the importance of higher qualifications in helping young people into work. But with ministers putting up fresh barriers to higher education by hiking tuition fees and scrapping the EMA, the scar of mass joblessness that is hitting today's youngsters could follow some of them into their late 20s or even 30s.”

Unemployment for young people in the UK aged 16 to 24 in October to December 2011 stood at 1.04 million, the highest number since 1986/87. Of these, 307,000 were full-time students who were actively looking for work to go alongside their study. This accounted for around 30 %, up from 9 % in March to May 1992, mainly driven by more students in the youth population. The increase in full-time students has reduced the pool of young people who are not in full-time education. Therefore, the current level of youth unemployment excluding students, at 731,000, is the highest since the start of 1994 but lower than the peaks following the 1980s and 1990s recessions.

London was the region with the highest youth unemployment rate — with 24 % of economically active 16 to 24-year-olds unemployed in the period July 2010 to June 2011. However, because of its many universities it has a high proportion of young people studying rather than in the labour market, so that it does not have the highest proportion of all 16 to 24-year-olds unemployed — that is in the North East, with 15 %. The lowest unemployment proportion was in Northern Ireland, with 10 %.

Looking across the European Union, Spain had the highest youth unemployment rate, with 47 % of its economically active 15 to 24-year-olds unemployed in the third quarter of 2011. The lowest rate was in Austria, at 7 %. The UK rate was 22 %, in line with the EU average. The proportion of the total number of 15 to 24-year-olds who were unemployed was also highest in Spain, at 20 %. At 13 %, the UK was above the EU average of 9 %, while the lowest proportion was in Luxembourg at 4 %.

Data from the narrower measure of joblessness, the claimant count, shows what types of jobs young people claiming unemployment-related benefits are looking for. In January 2011 there were 484,000 18 to 24-year-olds who were claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance; of these around six in 10 were looking for jobs in sales or elementary occupations.

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