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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Deputy Secretary-General: Statements

New York, 27 February 2012 - Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at ECOSOC Partnership Event

On behalf of the Secretary General, I welcome you to the ECOSOC Special Partnerships Event on Youth Employment. 

Last month, in announcing his five-year action agenda, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Today we have the largest generation of young people the world has ever known”. 

We at the United Nations consider this good news – a dividend. More young people means more opportunity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Across the globe, too many young people are jobless and disaffected. Some are poor; some have dropped out of school; some are highly educated.  But all have few or no immediate prospects.

For young women, the numbers are higher than those for young men; young women are also more likely to be outside the labour market, for example engaged in unpaid family work.

A recently released United Nations report shows the depth of the crisis.

Among developed countries, the jobless rate rose from an estimated 13 per cent to 18 per cent at the beginning of 2011. 

In Western Asia and North Africa, youth unemployment is a staggering 40 per cent.

Beyond high unemployment, in many developing countries, young people are often underemployed or work in poor conditions in the informal economy.

There are some exceptions. Yet for the world as a whole, the trend is stark: young people are nearly three times as likely as older adults to be out of a job.

These young people want more.  They deserve more.

And as we have seen all over the world in the past year, the lack of jobs is a key source of social and political upheaval.

In some quarters, there is a tendency to downplay the costs of youth employment.

According to this line of thinking, the young can remain with their parents or stay in school; they usually do not have families to support; or they tend not to be in dire need of medical insurance.  In essence, it is said, they are not on life’s edge.

This is terribly short-sighted.  A wealth of evidence suggests that youth unemployment inflicts lasting damage.

The direct costs are much the same as for unemployment in general: rising welfare payments; lost income-tax revenue; wasted capacity and lost productivity; and the brain drain that ensues when young people emigrate in search of better opportunities.

Research also shows that the best predictor of future unemployment is previous unemployment. Youth joblessness leaves a deep “wage scar” that persists well into middle-age. The longer the period of unemployment, the bigger the effect.

This is a grim diagnosis. Yet there are reasons for hope.

Green jobs, new technologies and entrepreneurship all provide reasons for hope.

Our challenge is to realize this potential.

It is time for policy-makers to become more focused on the structures that perpetuate unemployment.

Governments must open up labour markets that lock out younger workers.  They should also strengthen human capital, in particular through education.

Yet rigid labour markets are only part of the problem, and education only part of the solution.

We must also redesign our monetary and fiscal policies to promote youth employment.

Above all, getting young people into work demands economic growth.

Without that, consumers will not spend, businesses will not hire, and governments will not have the money to educate our children, thereby perpetuating the cycle.

Ladies and Gentlemen,


The role of government is important, but limited. We also need better partnerships.

Non-profit organizations and other independent actors, such as trade unions and employers’ organizations, have formidable on-the-ground knowledge.

Private foundations bring subject matter expertise and funding.

And the private sector, an increasingly key partner for the United Nations, brings great capacities in marketing, logistics, project management and research and development.

The United Nations, for its part, provides unparalleled access to leaders and policy makers; platforms rooted in universal values; and our convening power -- the ability to unite and coordinate those seeking to make a difference.

So let us get to work.

Let us forge partnerships that get more young people involved in greening our economies.

Let us boost job creation for young people in post-conflict countries -- an essential part of peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

Let us also improve the access of young women to male-dominated jobs.

I invite the companies and foundations represented here to team up with the United Nations, including the UN Global Compact, to put our world – and our young people – on a more sustainable course.

The Secretary-General’s action agenda calls on all of us to deepen the youth focus of programmes on employment, entrepreneurship, political participation, human rights, education and health.

He has called for the appointment of a Special Adviser for Youth and the creation of a youth volunteer programme under the umbrella of the UN Volunteers.

And he intends to scale up the UN’s capacity to engage in transformative, multi-stakeholder partnerships by creating a new UN Partnership Facility.

We look forward to pursuing these efforts together.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Too frequently, the voices of young people go unheard.  Some young entrepreneurs will be speaking to you this afternoon, and many more are in the audience.  I hope their stories inspire you to act. 

Investing in young people is not only the right thing to do, it is also smart. As the Secretary-General said earlier this month:

“We have a choice.  Young people can be embraced as partners in shaping their societies, or they can be excluded and left to simmer in frustration and despair. We don’t have a moment to lose.  We have the world to gain.”

Thank you for your attention and I wish you fruitful deliberations.

Statements on 27 February 2012