NEETs

15 October 2021

NEET is an acronym for ‘not in employment, education or training’, used to refer to the situation of many young persons, aged between 15 and 29, in Europe.Read more

NEET is an acronym for ‘not in employment, education or training’, used to refer to the situation of many young persons, aged between 15 and 29, in Europe. 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.

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EU context

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Lowering youth unemployment, and aiming to effectively engage as many of Europe’s young people as possible in the world of work, is at the heart of the EU policy agenda. The 2008–2013 economic crisis led to high levels of youth unemployment and thus disengagement among young people.Read more

Lowering youth unemployment, and aiming to effectively engage as many of Europe’s young people as possible in the world of work, is at the heart of the EU policy agenda. The 2008–2013 economic crisis led to high levels of youth unemployment and thus disengagement among young people. In light of this, researchers and government officials have sought new ways of monitoring and analysing the prevalence of labour market vulnerability and disengagement among young people. 

The NEET concept has been widely used as an indicator to inform youth-oriented policies on employability, education, training and also social inclusion in the EU Member States since 2010. 

NEETs were specifically referred to for the first time in European policy discussions in the Europe 2010 flagship initiative ‘Youth on the move’. The age category covered by the term was 15–24 and was later broadened to include those aged 15–29. The concept is now centrally embedded in the policy discourse at EU level. In 2019, 12.6% of the population aged 15–29 were NEETs, which was the lowest point for a decade, but following the COVID-19 pandemic this increased to 13.7% in 2020. 

In April 2013, the European Commission’s proposal to the Council of the European Union to implement a Youth Guarantee in all Member States was adopted. Reducing the number of NEETs is an explicit policy objective of the Youth Guarantee. This initiative aimed to ensure that all young people aged 15–24 receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. The roll-out of the Youth Guarantee across Member States, via the Youth Employment Initiative, has contributed to improving the situation on the ground, reducing the number of NEETs. 

In December 2016, the Commission launched the initiative 'Investing in Europe's Youth', a renewed effort to support young people. Given the positive impact of the Youth Guarantee up to that point, the Commission increased the finances available for the Youth Employment Initiative until 2020 to encourage more effective outreach to young people. 

A new EU Youth Strategy was adopted in 2018 and sets out a framework for cooperation with Member States on their youth policies for the period 2019–2027. The strategy focuses on three core areas of action, centred around the words ‘engage, connect, empower’. Meanwhile, COVID-19 is having a grave impact on apprenticeships and training. To aid the economic recovery from the pandemic, on 1 July 2020 the new Commission launched a Youth Employment Support package to provide a ‘bridge to jobs’ for the next generation. The Commission put forward a proposal for a Council Recommendation on ‘A Bridge to Jobs – Reinforcing the Youth Guarantee’, to replace the 2013 Recommendation. It extends the age range covered by the Youth Guarantee from age 24 to 29. 

The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, proposed by the European Commission in March 2021 and followed by a declaration at the Porto Social Summit in May 2021, introduced new, ambitious targets for young people, such as reducing the rate of NEETs from 12.6% (2019) to 9% by 2030.

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Research

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With Youth Guarantee implementation, the number of NEETs aged 15–29 has decreased, from around 14 million at the height of the 2008–2013 crisis to 9.3 million in 2019 (12.6Read more

With Youth Guarantee implementation, the number of NEETs aged 15–29 has decreased, from around 14 million at the height of the 2008–2013 crisis to 9.3 million in 2019 (12.6%). However, Eurofound research still estimates the significant loss to European economies to be around €142 billion a year (2015) – in benefits and foregone earnings and taxes. This has a significant impact on the economic and social development of the EU. 

With the situation of young people now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurofound will look at the impact of the crisis on these figures, building on its previous research on youth. 

Focus of research

Eurofound has pioneered almost a decade of extensive research on NEETs (see publications below) and has:

  • performed the first EU comparative analysis on NEETs
  • explained who NEETs are
  • estimated the economic costs of NEETs
  • investigated the social consequences of being NEETs
  • estimated risk factors of falling into the NEET category
  • investigated the effectiveness of policies for reintegrating NEETs
  • monitored Youth Guarantee implementation. 

Diversity of NEETs

As part of this research, Eurofound has sought to unravel the heterogeneity of the NEET population. Its 2016 study on the diversity of NEETs provides a new categorisation into seven subgroups in order to better understand the composition of this group of young people. The aim is to better assist policymakers in understanding who the NEETs are and to assist the design of adequate support measures to meet a wide variety of needs. Each of these groups is made up of a mix of vulnerable and non-vulnerable young people who are not accumulating human capital through formal channels, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Eurofound's 2021 study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people will include an update of the diversity of NEETs based on 2019 data. 

Image: Seven subgroups of NEETs - Re-entrants, Short-term unemployed, Long-term unemployed, Unavailable due to illness or disability, Unavailable due to family responsibilities, Discouraged workers, Other inactive

COVID-19 and NEETs

Eurofound carried out an online survey on Living, working and COVID-19 in three rounds during April–May and July 2020 and in February–March 2021 to establish the initial impact of the pandemic on the lives of EU citizens. Young people in Europe are feeling the strong impact of pandemic restrictions as they cope with the lowest levels of mental well-being and high levels of loneliness. Young men also appear most affected by job loss in the current crisis.

NEETs emerged as one of the most vulnerable groups following the 2008–2013 Great Recession. The major concern now is how these young people will again be affected by the economic fallout from COVID-19. 

Impact of COVID-19 crisis on young people

New research will assess the situation of young people in the EU. Building on its previous research on youth, Eurofound will examine the impact on young people as part of its ongoing study on the ‘Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on young people’, in particular their economic and social situation, with a focus on employment. It will also estimate how the NEET population has changed in size and composition over the last decade, and how the current crisis might affect this. The report will also collect and examine the most important policy initiatives adopted in the EU Member States to support young people during the crisis, particularly measures related to employment, education and financial help.

Other related research topics

In addition to research on the diversity of NEETs, over the years Eurofound has explored (see publications section below):

  • the characteristics and values of youth entrepreneurship
  • how to engage the ‘missing middle’: young people with second-level education who do not follow academic routes into higher education
  • the social inclusion of young people 
  • youth transitions in the labour market
  • the rise in temporary employment among young people and access to social protection
  • working conditions of young entrants to the labour market
  • recent policy developments related to NEETs.
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Key messages

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  • NEETs emerged as one of the most vulnerable groups following the 2008–2013 Great Recession. Youth unemployment soared above 40% in many EU countries, highlighting how young people are more vulnerable to economic recession than other age groups.
  • In the EU27, the share of NEETs aged 15–29 peaked at 16.1% in 2013 with some improvement in the subsequent years due to policy measures like the Youth Guarantee. By 2019, the rate had fallen to 12.6%, the lowest point in 10 years.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and related economic restrictions have contributed to an increase in the NEETs rate to 13.7% in 2020, as a result of job loss and barriers to education and training for young people
  • The high number of NEETs has cost the European economies an estimated €142 billion a year (2015) in benefits and forgone earnings and taxes.
  • The NEETs rate for young women aged 15–29 in the EU stood at 15.4% in 2020 and remains higher than the rate of 12.1% for young men. The share is higher for young women in almost all Member States. 
  • There is high concern among policymakers that young workers will be the next victims of the COVID-19 economic fallout. Eurofound’s ‘Living, working and COVID-19’ survey of Europeans’, launched in three rounds in April and July 2020 and in March 2021, shows that young people are grappling with the crisis situation
  • Worrying levels of mental well-being are reported among young people in the EU, especially when it comes to feelings of loneliness and depression, where young people are suffering the impact of pandemic restrictions and reduction of social interactions more than the older population. 
  • Young people are also experiencing greater job loss and insecurity about their professional and financial futures. The impact of the pandemic on education is also damaging young people’s opportunities to accumulate human capital. The suspension of schooling is likely to hinder skills formation, while reinforcing inequalities between the most privileged and the most vulnerable.
  • Despite the negative effects of the crisis on young people, they remain slightly more optimistic than other age groups: 53% in April and 57% in July compared with 44% and 48% for over-30s reported feeling optimistic about their future. 
  • Young people still trust the EU (6.1 out of 10) slightly more than they trust national governments (5.0). Nonetheless, the implementation of new lockdowns and restrictions on movement risks bearing serious economic and social costs for young people’s employability and wellbeing. While representing a response to the health crisis, their wider societal and economic effects also need to be assessed carefully and taken into account by policymakers.
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Publications & data

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The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic. 

  • Publications (51)
  • Data
  • Ongoing work (1)

Data

Data related to this topic are linked below

Ongoing work

Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles.

 

Other ongoing work

  • Policy brief on underemployment, long-term unemployment and in-work poverty