NEET is an acronym for ‘not in employment, education or training’, used to refer to the situation of many young persons – typically aged between 15 and 24 – in Europe and beyond.
This acronym first emerged in the UK in the late 1980s, reflecting an alternative way of categorising young people following changes in unemployment benefit policies. Since then, interest in the NEET group has grown at EU policy level, and NEET-equivalent definitions have been created in almost all Member States. The aim of the NEET concept is to broaden understanding of the vulnerable status of young people and to better monitor their problematic access to the labour market.
The definition of NEET agreed by the European Commission Employment Committee (EMCO) includes young people aged 15–24 years who are unemployed or inactive, as per the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition, and who are not attending any education or training courses. The definition was applied by Eurostat in its statistical data and the indicator subsequently used in the context of the Europe2020 strategy.
Youth unemployment is one of the major challenges of EU employment policy: the average rate of youth unemployment in the EU is currently well over 23% (23.5% in the EU27 according to Eurostat figures for February 2013). In 2011, the share of young people in the NEET group (often referred to as NEETs) was 12.9% of the population of those aged 15–24 in the EU27, which corresponds approximately to 7.5 million young people. For those aged 25–29, this figure stood at almost 20% in 2010, amounting to 6.5 million young people.
To address this situation, the Commission devised Youth on the Move, one of the Europe 2020 flagship policies, to help young people gain access to training or the labour market. Since then, various Commission policy documents earmark the reduction of the NEET rate as one of the main priorities for integrating young people into the labour market. The 2012 Commission Communication Towards a job-rich recovery (120KB PDF) – issued as part of its Employment Package – emphasises the importance of tackling the NEET crisis and suggests making greater use of the European Social Fund (ESF) for the Commission’s next programme period (2014–2020). One proposal was a youth guarantee as a priority investment for the sustainable integration of NEETs into the labour market.
According to the widely cited 2012 Eurofound report ‘NEETs – Young people not in employment, education or training: Characteristics, costs and policy responses in Europe’, there is considerable variation in the NEET rate between EU Member States, varying from below 7% (Luxembourg and the Netherlands) to over 17% (Bulgaria, Ireland, Italy and Spain).
NEETs are a highly heterogeneous population. The largest subgroup tends to be those who are conventionally unemployed. Other vulnerable subgroups include sick and disabled persons and young carers, as well as discouraged workers and young people who are disengaged from society. Non-vulnerable subgroups include young people simply taking time out and those constructively engaged in other activities such as art, music and self-directed learning. Some young people are at greater risk of being NEET than others. Those with low levels of education are three times more likely to be NEET compared to those with tertiary education, while young people with an immigrant background are 70% more likely to become NEET than nationals. Young people suffering from some kind of disability or health issues are 40% more likely to be NEET than those in good health. Family background also has a crucial influence. Being a NEET has severe adverse consequences for the individual, society and the economy. Spending time as a NEET may lead to a wide range of social disadvantages, such as alienation, insecure and poor employment prospects, delinquency, and mental and physical health problems.
In 2011, the economic loss due to the disengagement of young people from the labour market in Europe was estimated to be €153 billion, corresponding to 1.2% of European gross domestic product (GDP). There is great variation between Member States, but some countries are paying an especially high price of 2% or more of their GDP: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and Poland.