Youth underemployment at four-decade peak: Brotherhood report

The report says young people are much more likely to be in casual and part-time work than at the turn of the century. Julian Smith/AAP

Underemployment among young people is now at its highest in the 40 years since it has been officially counted, according to a report from the Brotherhood of St Laurence released on Monday.

In February underemployment was 18% of the youth labour force, affecting even more young people than unemployment, which was 13.5%.

In total, some 659,000 young people were unemployed or underemployed – defined as having some work but wanting more hours. There were 282,000 young people unemployed and 377,000 underemployed.

Since 1978 the contributions of unemployment and underemployment in the youth figures have changed significantly. “In the 1980s and 1990s unemployment was more prevalent in the youth labour force. Since 2003, underemployment is more common.”

The report says under underemployment has “become an entrenched feature of the youth labour market”, while the youth unemployment rate for 15-24-year-olds “has remained stubbornly high since the global financial crisis”.

In the months before the GFC, the unemployment and underemployment rates were below 10% and 11% respectively.

The Brotherhood’s analysis draws on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), and the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.

The report says young people are much more likely to be in casual and part-time work than at the turn of the century, and in the past 15 years the average gap between the working hours of underemployed young people and their desired hours has widened.

The increasing number of young people combining study and work doesn’t explain the trend in underemployment, because the percentage rise of casual and part-time jobs has mostly been among young workers who are not studying, the report says.

It presents a bleak situation for many young people in the labour market: “Young Australians face a much more brutish job scenario than their parents or grandparents ever did.

"Precarious employment is hindering the capacity of many young people, especially those without qualifications and skills, to build satisfactory and productive adult lives as the pathways that were open to their parents appear to have stalled.”

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