Between 1992 and 2004, 16- to 24-year-olds not in full-time education had an employment rate similar to those aged 25 to 64, but since then that rate has declined, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Figures show that in the first quarter of 2004, 75.3% of 16- to 24-year-olds were employed compared to 75.5% of 25- to 64-year-olds. But by the final quarter of 2011 the percentage of younger people in work had fallen to just 66%, while 74.9% of the older group were employed.
The figures were supported by a study of 40,000 households by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), which found that youngsters faced a “double penalty” in their attempts to find and keep work.
Young people are more likely to be laid off and find it more difficult than older staff to find another job, the research suggests. Before the recession, about 50% of 16- to 24-year-olds who were not in work in 2006 had found a job in 2007, but this halved during the downturn with only 27% of young people who were out of work in 2009 finding a job by 2010. In contrast, the proportion of 25- to 44-year-olds entering employment between 2009 and 2010 fell by just 3% compared to 2006-07.
Dr Mark Taylor, a labour market researcher at the ISER, said: “The double-penalty faced by young people is due to them falling victim to the ‘last in, first out’ policies used in practice by many employers. The most important challenge for the government is keeping these young people attached to the job market or involved in productive activities such as education or training.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said now was not the time to be young and looking for a job. “Figures show more than 1 million people under 24 around the UK are unable to find work. With a strong recovery still failing to take hold, the bleak prospects facing young jobseekers will be with us for some considerable time to come.
“With the toxic combination of increasing unemployment, high tuition fees and inadequate government support for those people out of work, our unemployed young people have little choice but to join the back of the dole queue.”
The ONS also said young people earn about 42% less than their older counterparts, at £7.01 an hour compared to £12.00 an hour (excluding overtime), with young people earning less across all types of job. The greatest difference in pay was for managers and senior officials, and the lowest for sales and customer service occupations where the gap was 11%.
The ONS figures were released at the same time as Nick Clegg hit out at critics of the government’s work experience scheme. With a weekend of protests planned across the country against unpaid work placements, Clegg said critics of the programme, launched more than a year ago, “have really got to think hard about what they are saying.”
While visiting a school in north London Clegg said: “They are criticising a programme that is deliberately trying to help young people into work. I cannot for the life of me understand the kind of messed-up sense of priorities of people who want to prevent young people from finding opportunities to get into permanent work.
“The system we inherited from the previous government was such that if you were a young person receiving jobseeker’s allowance you weren’t allowed to take up work experience.
“All the evidence shows that if you get people out of the home, off the sofa, away from the television screen and into the habit of getting up, going to work, getting dressed, being disciplined about it – actually your chances of finding work are substantially increased.”
Employment minister Chris Grayling is to meet employers signed up to the government’s work experience scheme to reassure them their reputations will not be damaged if they take on the young unemployed.