OECD Secretary General Jose Angel Gurria addresses the media during a press conference to present the OECD Economic Outlook at the OECD headquarters, in Paris, France, in November 2012. OECD member countries chose Gurria to serve as secretary general through 2021 on Tuesday. EPA/CHRISTOPHE KARABA

Tens of millions of young people around the world are not employed or in school, a problem that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development attributes to a lack of basic literacy and math skills coupled with a disconnect between what children learn in class and what they need to know to get a job.

Across the nearly three dozen OECD countries spanning the globe, more than 35 million people ages 16 to 29 aren’t in school or employed. Ten percent of new graduates have poor literacy skills and 14 percent have poor math skills, according to the international Survey of Adult Skills, which is administered to most OECD nations.

“The transition from school to work has never been particularly easy; but for millions of young people in OECD countries, it has become nearly impossible,” says the report, which the Paris-based OECD released Wednesday morning.

In the United States, one in every six youth is disengaged from work and education, which is higher than the OECD average.


Just more than 15 percent of American youth are disengaged from school and work, slightly higher than the OECD average. Source: OECD Skills Outlook 2015

The share of American young people with low levels of literacy and math skills also is higher than the OECD average, according to the report. Of the nearly two dozen nations that administered the Survey of Adult Skills in 2012, the United States had the fourth-highest share of young people with low literacy and the highest share of people with low numeracy.


Job opportunities that are available to young people are often temporary positions that don’t offer a lot of opportunity for training or advancement, according to the report.

The OECD argues that nations must do a better job ensuring that their young people are learning basic math and reading, especially by investing in early childhood education.

But nations also have to get serious about preparing students for work while they’re still in school through internships and other such programs, the OECD says. And when young people fall off the radar, governments have to find them and offer social supports and job training so the disengaged can reconnect.

The OECD has couched the need for stronger connections between education systems and employers in economic terms, arguing in a recent analysis that even high-income countries could generate more wealth by making sure that all students reach basic literacy levels.

The high numbers of disengaged youth “represent not only a personal calamity for those individuals concerned, but a squandered investment, because the skills acquired during education are not being put to productive use, and a potential burden for their countries too: from lower tax revenues, higher welfare payments, and the social instability that may arise when part of the population is out of work and demoralised,” the OECD report says. “Young people should be an asset to the economy, not a potential liability.”