Study points to alarming rise in youth unemployment

The real levels of youth unemployment in Bulgaria could be twice as high as official figures suggest, even though government statistics already show that the number of jobless workers under the age of 29 is rising faster than anywhere else in Europe. The study by research agency Mediana highlights changes in the structure of youth unemployment since 2008. Most alarming is the long-term youth unemployment rate of 46%, and the finding that one in six people over the age of 20 has never had a job.


In March 2012, new research claimed youth unemployment in Bulgaria was much higher than figures from the National Statistical Institute (NSI) suggested. The findings came from a report by research agency Mediana, which specialises in political, marketing and social surveys. It presented the main results in its study Unemployment in Bulgaria – factors, type of unemployment, state policy, programmes, effectiveness of measures, and problem identification (in Bulgarian, 665Kb PDF).

The study was nationally representative of young people aged between 15 and 29, and covered unemployed people in that age range. Its purpose was to examine the current employment situation of young people in Bulgaria. The survey was conducted in early February 2012.


The definition of unemployed young people used in the Mediana study included those who declared themselves to be unemployed, as well as those who stated that they were looking for work. This definition differs from the definition used by NSI and Bulgaria’s National Employment Agency.

According to the authors of the study, the differences between the numbers of unemployed in the study and the official statistics were a result of the statistical definitions of ‘employed’ and ‘unemployed’. They argue that the Eurostat and Labour Force Survey methodology are adequate for the periods of economic growth, but not in times of crisis.

Key findings

Increasing youth unemployment

At the beginning of 2012, the unemployment rate among those aged 15–24 rose to over 30%, the highest level in Bulgaria since the third quarter of 2008 when the economic crisis began. The figure shows how Bulgaria’s experience compares to other EU countries struggling with youth unemployment.

Figure: Highest EU27 unemployment rates among workers aged 15–24 (%)

Figure: Highest EU27 unemployment rates among workers aged 15–24 (%)

Source: EUROSTAT (Data cited in Mediana 2012 study)

No data available for 2012 for Greece and Lithuania where the youth unemployment rate is also very high

The Mediana study results put youth unemployment at more than double the registered unemployment figures recorded by official statistics.

The study suggested that in February 2012, there were 190,000 unemployed young people in the 15–24 age group, against the NSI’s figure of 73,241. The study identified a further 140,000 unemployed among those aged 25–29, bringing the total number of under-29s without work to 330,000.

The study’s other key statistical conclusions were that:

  • the growth rate for youth unemployment in Bulgaria between 2008 and 2012 was 16.5% – the second highest after Spain (18.5%);
  • if this growth rate continued, Bulgaria would be among five countries in Europe with the highest youth unemployment levels;
  • there were no signs of a fall in the number of young people dropping out of the labour market;
  • nearly half of young workers (48%) worried about being dismissed, and unemployed workers were pessimistic about their chances of finding job.

Changing structure of youth unemployment

The survey revealed that young people make up 46% of the long-term unemployed. It also showed that one in six of the young people surveyed over the age of 20 had never had a job.

Mediana said in its report that the structure of youth unemployment had changed significantly. A few years ago, many of the young unemployed were from poor educational backgrounds, from ethnic minorities or lived in villages. Now there has been an influx of young people into the ranks of the unemployed who have secondary and higher education.

Rates of unemployment among better educated young people had risen more sharply than among those with lower levels of education, and had more than doubled in three years.

Table: Youth unemployment structure trends
  2011 2012

Primary and lower









Ethnic group




Bulgarian Turks









Place of residence

living in villages



living in small towns



living in cities



living in the capital



Source: Mediana, 2012

Against a background of increasing unemployment, almost 60% of the young jobless interviewed stated that they planned to emigrate in the near future, with 26.1% of them (over 90,000) saying they intended to leave the country immediately.

Generational unemployment

The study identified the appearance of ‘generational unemployment’, a situation in which young people are unemployed, their parents are unemployed and even some of their children are or will be unemployed. Generational unemployment is based around poverty, dropping out of education and marginalisation from the labour market.

According to the survey, while just 1.7% of employed young people came from jobless families, the same was true for 13% of the unemployed young.

About 3% (40,000 people) of the total youth population (15–29) belonged to this group. Among the wider group of young unemployed, 86% reported that those in their closest circle of friends, relatives and neighbours were unemployed as well, and about 64% had experienced extreme poverty, including lack of food and heating. More than 80% did not believe that they would ever find a job.

Authors’ conclusions

The authors of the Mediana study said national as well as European statistics sought to identify a category of the ‘perfect unemployed’. In times of crisis and growing long-term unemployment, the people who fit into this category represent just a fraction of the real unemployment figures, they argue. Meanwhile, people were increasingly forced to seek whatever work they could – cutting firewood for a neighbour, fixing a fence, caring for a sister’s child – just in order to survive. In return, these people receive little money but may be given food or other payment in kind.

The authors argue these people are genuinely unemployed even though, for the purposes of official statistics, they are considered as employed in any week when they earn as little as €2 or a payment in kind. This, they claim, is why large numbers of unemployed are not registered in the labour offices and not included in official statistics.


The survey findings once again confirm that solving youth unemployment is one of the most pressing problems Bulgaria is facing today.

Not dealing with high and rising levels of youth unemployment might have potentially severe economic and social consequences for the future because there is a very real danger that today’s youth will become a ‘lost generation’.


Mediana Agency (2012), Youth Unemployment in Bulgaria – factors, type of unemployment, social-psychological attitudes, state policy, programmes, measures effectiveness, problems identification, Mediana Agency, Sofia.

Nadezhda Daskalova, ISTUR

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment