Inactivity among young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) is rarely a single-factor issue, but is driven by a variety of personal and socio-economic characteristics. This is all too clear in the case of Bulgaria – a country where the labour market and educational institutions have been struggling to provide inclusion opportunities for a significant share of young people, despite record-high employment and record-low unemployment rates.
The need for better understanding of the factors that determine youth inactivity in the 15- 34 age group under review requires using additional sources of information, apart from the headline numbers contained in the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The European Survey on Social Inclusion and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) provides arguably the most comprehensive dataset that may be used to supplement existing information on NEETs, while maintaining representativeness and allowing additional insight into the issues that this group faces. Comparing EU-SILC and LFS data, taking into account necessary methodological considerations, has helped us not only to confirm already established motives and factors in youth inactivity, but also has enabled us to shed light on some additional issues.
Our analysis shows that:
- The total share of NEETs (aged 15-34), as calculated in the SILC dataset for 2017 (22.6%), is three percentage points higher compared to that calculated in the LFS (19.5%).
- SILC estimates show a slightly higher share of NEETs for men and in regions with higher concentration of ethnic minorities, but a slightly lower share of NEETs for groups with high school or tertiary education compared to the LFS.
- The new findings on the basis of EU-SILC data (that cannot be estimated in the LFS dataset), show alarmingly high shares of NEETs both among Roma and among poor households, with NEETs making up more than half of the population in both groups within the age parameters of the study (15-34).
- The observed age distribution of NEETs in the LFS and EU-SILC studies, as well as Employment Agency (EA) data on the age distribution of the registered unemployed show that 30-34-olds form a significant share of all NEETs in the 15-34 age group at national level. NEETs aged 30-34 are also the most numerous age group in two of the country’s six regions – the Southwestern and the Northeastern.
- We find that the EU-SILC survey has a better record in reaching out to particular ethnic groups such as Roma, thus providing better coverage in regions where they are prevalent. For instance, the SILC estimation shows the South Central Region of the country as having the highest NEET rate of 31.8% for the 15-34 age group. This significant (8 percentage point) difference, compared with the LFS assessment, means that the South Central Region surpasses the Northwestern Region - usually considered to have the worst labour market conditions in the country.
- It is largely reassuring that there are not many inactive youths in the school-aged group, between 15 and 19, with the exception of the Southern Central and Southeastern regions of the country. This, again, seems to be correlated with the larger presence of Roma in those regions. Breaking down the share of NEETs by education shows that the apparent “breaking point” is the completion of high school (the 12th grade), which significantly decreases the probability of having NEET status.
- Having children appears to be a key point of difference between male and female NEETs, regardless of family size. There are many more female NEETs with children in the household, showing that policies aiming at reducing NEET rates need to look at providing support to young mothers. While a little more than one in ten Bulgarians is in the 15-34 NEETs group, this is true for about one in three of Turkish ethnicity and two in three in the Roma ethnic group. This finding (notably absent from the LFS results) has significant policy implications, as it shows that while the education system and the labour market (including public employment ) manage to a significant extent to encompass those of Bulgarian ethnicity, regardless of their education, region or gender, they generally fail to provide the same opportunities to ethnic minorities.
- The data show that being in poor health – and, likely, having a disability – also greatly diminish the possibility of participating actively both in the labour market and in education. This finding, while not surprising, shows the effects that inequality in opportunities (for instance, an accessible environment) can have on socio-economic outcomes among young people.
The report is available here.