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A job seeker at the Youth Employment Services office in Toronto.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Global youth unemployment is set to continue growing over the next five years, putting a generation at risk of lasting damage to their earnings potential and job prospects throughout their lives, the International Labour Organization has warned.

The UN agency said in a report released on Wednesday that it expected the worldwide youth jobless rate to increase from 12.4 per cent last year to 12.8 per cent by 2018.

The jobless rate for young people - defined as those aged between 15 and 24 - has risen from 11.5 per cent of the work force in that age group in 2007 as the economic downturn took its toll.

The ILO said the youth jobs crisis was worse than the data suggested because long-term unemployment was growing, along with part-time, temporary and insecure jobs. Young people are almost three times as likely as their older peers to be out of work, and many are giving up on the search for employment.

"The economic and social costs of unemployment, long-term unemployment, discouragement and widespread low-quality jobs for young people continue to rise and undermine economies' growth potential," the ILO warned in its Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013 report.

After a slight recovery in 2010 and 2011, the rate began rising again. The weakening of the global economic recovery over the past year means the youth jobs crisis is likely to be more prolonged.

"These figures underline the need to focus policies on growth, massive improvements in education and training systems, and targeted youth employment actions," said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, the ILO's assistant director-general for policy.

In the past, youth unemployment has in some countries risen quickly during recession, but fallen quickly afterwards. This time, the length of the downturn is causing particular problems. In the majority of countries in the OECD club of mostly rich nations, one-third or more of young job seekers have been unemployed for at least six months, up from a quarter in 2008.

The number of unemployed young people in developed countries has grown by almost a quarter since 2008. The jobless rate there was 18.1 per cent last year and is not predicted to fall below 17 per cent before 2016. In Greece and Spain, more than half the economically active youth population is unemployed.

The highest regional youth unemployment in 2012 was recorded in the Middle East, where the rate was 28.3 per cent and expected to rise to 30 per cent in 2018. North Africa saw 23.7 per cent youth unemployment. Young women were the worst hit in both regions.

Globally, the lowest rates were in east Asia (9.5 per cent) and south Asia (9.3 per cent).

Studies have shown that those who experience prolonged unemployment in their youth are likely to suffer from lower earnings and poorer job prospects than other people later in their lives.

Mr. Salazar-Xirinachs said: "The long-term consequences of persistently high youth unemployment include the loss of valuable work experience and the erosion of occupational skills."

The ILO added that perhaps the most significant impact was "in terms of the current youth generation's distrust in the socioeconomic and political systems", expressed in anti-austerity protests in Greece and Spain.

It suggested that in advanced economies, measures should include education and training, work experience support and recruitment incentives for employers.

Strategies in developing countries might include training in literacy, occupational and entrepreneurial skills and business support.

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