This report analyses the youth unemployment problems of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the US, examining how the transition from education to full-time employment is managed in each country. Drawing from their successes, failures and points of difference, it identifies ways in which the process can be improved in all countries.

Five and a half million young people under the age of 25 are currently unemployed in the EU – which is in part a consequence of the 'Great Recession' and the subsequent sluggish economic recovery. However, while countries with the biggest economic problems over the last six or seven years have generally experienced the greatest increases in youth unemployment, young people are also facing more long-term structural problems as they seek to enter the workforce, and have been for some time.

Even before the recession, young people in many countries were finding it harder than their adult counterparts to get jobs, and the ratio of youth to adult unemployment was increasing. While conventional wisdom places the blame for higher relative rates of youth unemployment on the changing nature of the labour market – particularly the decline in manufacturing jobs and the growth of the service sector – there is in fact a wide variation in experiences across Europe, reflecting not just the economic cycle but also differing institutional set-ups and policy responses.

The transition from education to full-time employment is managed in a variety of ways in different European countries, and no one country has got every aspect of it right. Drawing comparisons between countries is therefore a good way of identifying ways to improve the transition. This report contains analyses of the youth unemployment problems in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain – and, for a very different perspective, the US. It also draws out some common themes and illuminating points of difference, and recommends policy steps that can be taken to alleviate youth unemployment.