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Systematic overview of youth unemployment

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Youth unemployment rates in South Africa are severe. If left unchanged, the situation is expected to lead to an increasing sense of exclusion among young people and to heightened ‘levels of frustration and impatience’. South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) therefore states with a high sense of urgency that the country must:

‘find ways to reduce alarming levels of youth unemployment and to provide young people with broader opportunities […] Failure to act will threaten democratic gains’ (National Planning Commission 2012: 16).  

Failure to act will also almost certainly lead to lower levels of physical and mental well-being among the current youth cohort, feeding the vicious cycle of exclusion and poverty.  In response to the rising sense of crisis over youth unemployment, a range of labour market interventions have been initiated by government, civil society and/or the private sector. There is also a substantial and growing body of research on the drivers of youth unemployment. Yet almost certainly since the transition to democracy in 1994, youth unemployment rates have remained consistently high. Studies indicate that levels of discouragement among youth are, in fact, on the rise. There is, therefore, the need for a consolidation and clear understanding of the collective knowledge of youth unemployment. This project proposes a systematic and rigorous assessment of what we know, and what we still need to understand about the drivers of youth unemployment. This exercise also requires an assessment of the policy landscape of youth unemployment, of the interventions which currently exist, and, specifically, of those interventions that have a proven positive effect.