Labor Market Uncertainties and Youth Labor Force Experiences: Lessons Learned

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
/tmp/tmp-17cjxdap7IvKiy/input 913861ANN
THE ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMYYouth Labor Market Uncertainties: Lessons Learned
Labor market uncertainties have plagued all countries
in recent years, but young workers have borne the
brunt of these uncertainties. Liberalization of labor
markets has transformed work, creating a variety of
nonstandard employment relations as well as increasing
the number of people who do not have traditional
employers. Macro social, political, and economic forces
have also made it harder for young adults to gain solid
footholds in the labor market. The articles in this issue
Labor Market of The ANNALS present empirical evidence about
labor market uncertainties and youth labor force expe-
Uncertainties riences from diverse regions of the world, both in the
global North and global South: Asia (China, South
Korea, Hong Kong, Caucasus and Central Asia); Latin/
and Youth
South America (Mexico, brazil); Eastern Europe
(Lithuania); Western Europe; and the United States. In
Labor Force this epilogue, I summarize the main insights from the
articles and draw some broader conclusions about the
future of labor market policies to address concerns
Experiences: related to workers’ insecurities and uncertainties.
Keywords: youth labor market experiences; precarious
work; school-to-work transition; NEETs
Economic, political, and social transforma-
tions in recent years have led to changes in
labor markets and restructuring of jobs and
career opportunities. In the global South as
well as the global North, and in postsocialist
and more long-standing capitalist countries,
structural changes in labor markets and in
work—punctuated by economic crises and
recessions—have created greater uncertainties
for all workers. The impact of these changes on
young workers has been especially profound
and disproportionate, however, as young people
are always more vulnerable to adverse labor
Arne L. Kalleberg is a Kenan Distinguished Professor of
Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill. He served as the President of the American
Sociological Association in 2007–2008 and is currently
the editor of Social Forces, an international journal of
social research.
DOI: 10.1177/0002716220913861
ANNALS, AAPSS, 688, March 2020

market conditions due to their relative lack of work-relevant skills and experi-
ence, smaller social network connections, fewer economic resources to support
them as they search for work, and less information about how to find jobs. The
economic crises of 2007–2009, in particular, increased their vulnerability as fewer
jobs were available and those that were tended to be short-term, poorly paying
jobs. Finding jobs that meet their needs, values, and expectations was difficult,
even for those who had college degrees, though education has become a crucial
factor in explaining differences in labor market outcomes.
Youth unemployment is the most commonly studied aspect of this problem
and is often a significant hurdle, more so in some periods and labor markets than
others, and for people with different education and skills. but a larger challenge
is to enhance the quality of jobs that young people have and are available to them.
The jobs available to young workers are often low-wage and do not lead to career
opportunities, which frequently result in workers being underemployed or over-
qualified. Workers may also choose—subject to the opportunities and constraints
created by their education and skills, as well as characteristics such as their gen-
der, race, age, and immigration status—to participate in education and training,
in addition to not being in the labor force.
Young peoples’ labor market challenges also depend on the social institutions
of their countries, which mitigate the impacts of the changing terms and nature
of work. For example, educational systems that provide better matches for work-
ers and jobs, along with the social support systems that enable people to have
greater access to the labor market, help to facilitate the transitions from school to
work. Moreover, labor laws that provide older workers with high employment
protections hamper the progress of young people in many countries.1
Much of the literature on the labor market uncertainties faced by youth has
focused on Europe and liberal market economies in North America and Australia
(e.g., O’reilly et al. 2019), though there is considerable research as well on Asia
(e.g., brinton 2011). The articles in this issue of The ANNALS come from diverse
regions of the world, both in the global North and global South: Asia (China,
South Korea, Hong Kong, Caucasus and Central Asia); Latin/South America
(Mexico, brazil); Eastern Europe (Lithuania); Western Europe; and the United
States. The research findings from dissimilar countries represented in this vol-
ume help to identify ways of addressing the labor market uncertainties faced by
youth as they underscore both common challenges faced by young people every-
where as well as lessons from countries that have been able to facilitate better
transitions into the workforce.
In this epilogue, I first briefly outline some of the changes that have led to
transformations of the employment relationship between workers and employers
and what these mean for labor market opportunities. I then discuss how the
articles in this issue advance our understanding of the impacts of labor market
uncertainties and insecurities on young people’s labor force experiences on a
range of important outcomes, from wages to fertility. Last, I outline some policies
that are suggested by the articles in this issue that would improve the ability of
young people to gain a foothold in the labor force and have satisfying work

Transformations in Work and Labor Markets
The difficulties that youth now experience with regard to low quality jobs reflect
the broader rise in polarized and precarious work in a number of countries.
There has been a growing polarization of jobs into good, well-paying jobs, and
bad, low-wage, relatively dead-end jobs in many countries. In addition, there has
been a general increase in the uncertainty and insecurity associated with all jobs,
most notably temporary and involuntary part-time work, but also jobs that were
formerly relatively permanent and part of job ladders that facilitated wage growth
and training opportunities. Young people have borne the brunt of this expansion
of low-quality work, especially those with less education.
These changes in the terms and nature of work have often been referred to as
“precarious work,” or work that is uncertain, unstable and insecure and in which
workers bear the risks of work (as opposed to businesses or the government) and
receive limited social benefits and statutory entitlements (e.g., Kalleberg 2011).
Examples of precarious work include “nonstandard employment relations,” such
as temporary and contract work in the formal economy and independent con-
tracting, in which workers do not technically have an employer. These work
arrangements represent a shift from the normative forms of employment during
the three decades after World War II in the United States, Europe, and some
Asian countries (such as Japan and South Korea) that were embodied in the
notion of a “standard employment relationship” that featured open-ended con-
tracts and the exchange of security and training for commitment and loyalty.
However, precarious employment can also be found in standard employment
relations: the shifting of risks from employers to workers has reduced protections
for standard workers as well, leading to greater uncertainty and insecurity for
many who are employed on a “permanent” basis.
The recent rise of precarious work is rooted in employers’ and governments’
strategies to increase their workforce flexibility in response to growing competi-
tive pressures associated with the internationalization of the economy and rapid
technological changes. Labor markets were liberalized (i.e., employers’...

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