Nearly a million young Canadians were neither in school nor holding down a job last year, a proportion that has inched higher since the recession but remains lower than in most other G7 nations.
New analysis by Statistics Canada -- the first of its kind in the country -- finds 13 per cent, or 904,000, of the 6.8 million Canadians between the ages of 15 and 29 weren't in school nor at work last year.
The portion is the second-lowest in the G7. Germany – a country that's becoming a global role model in how it integrates youth into the workplace -- had the lowest rate, at 11.6 per cent. Italy had the highest of the G7, at 21.2 per cent (based on 2009 comparisons).
The so-called NEET concept -- young people who are neither in school nor employed -- emerged in the late 1990s when jobless, out-of-school youth in some European countries were viewed as at risk of becoming discouraged and disengaged. This indicator is now regularly measured by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Across Europe, concern is growing over a generation of NEETs. Relatively little research has been done on NEETs in Canada until now – and there are some surprising findings.
"The data suggests most Canadian youth who are NEETs are not in a high-risk, negative state," Katherine Marshall, Statscan analyst and author of the report, said in an interview. "Certainly some youth are having a tough time finding job matching their credentials, but that's not the majority."
Of the 904,000 NEETs in Canada last year, most (513,000) weren't actively looking for a job.
Many Canadians in the NEET category are in a period of short-term unemployment, or out on a temporary absence such as parental leave, suggesting they are not disengaged with the labour market, Ms. Marshall said.
Canada has relatively low rates of long-term youth unemployment. Of the jobless, 55,000 young people had been looking for work for more than six months.
"These long-term unemployed represented 1 per cent of all youth and 14 per cent of unemployed youth," Ms. Marshall wrote. "This was the lowest proportion of long-term unemployed young people among the G7 nations."
That's not to say Canada is problem-free -- for thousands of young people, the transition from school to employment has not been smooth. While employment has risen for most age groups since the recession, it hasn't improved much for young people.
If there is one demographic of chief concern, it is young men. Men between 15 and 24 were "significantly" more likely to be unemployed than men in their late twenties and young women in both age ranges.
The findings reinforce that it pays to stay in school. A higher level of education "significantly reduced" the chance of being unemployed. Lower levels of education were linked with higher rates of youth unemployment and long-term unemployment.
Youth living at home had significantly higher odds of being unemployed than those not living at home, which might reflect "the difficulty of living on one's own without a job."
Some findings might seem self-evident – married women with kids are much less likely to participate in the labour force than single women. For men, however, being married with kids tends to boost their participation rate.
Among young people who were not in the labour force, one in five said they wanted a job -- despite the fact that they were not looking for one. Half had reasons for not looking, such as feeling too discouraged about finding work, waiting for recall and being sick.
The vast majority – 82 per cent – of young people not in the labour force don't want a job. Of those, nearly half were parents of young children, students in non-traditional programs, or permanently unable to work. Others may be involved in unpaid household work, volunteering or leisure.
A growing number might be preparing for a stint overseas. For example, AIESEC Canada, which sends young people abroad for internships, says it has sent a record 443 Canadians abroad in the past year, to countries such as China, India, Brazil, Malaysia and Colombia.
"Instead of giving up all together, we should be using what we have learned to set ourselves apart; either through communicating with employers or going abroad for experience," says spokesperson Cassandra Ruggiero, who is 23 and herself set to spend 13 months in the U.K. for work.
The NEET concept generally carries negative connotations. But Ms. Marshall's findings offer a more nuanced, and optimistic take on Canada's young population – one that contrasts with the experience in many other countries.