Welfare groups warn of tough times as youth unemployment skyrockets

A woman walks past the Centrelink office in Marrickville, Sydney

Employment and welfare groups are warning that Australia's youth unemployment figures are increasing at an alarming rate.

While the overall unemployment rate is 6 per cent, the figure among the nation's youth is more than double that and growing rapidly.

The number of 18 to 20-year-olds receiving Newstart allowance is up almost 30 per cent in two years.

And that is not including those on other benefits who are also trying to find a job, such as Nicole Dray, who lives in the unemployment hotspot of Logan, south of Brisbane.

Ms Dray left home at 15 after falling out with her father and left school in year 10 to pursue a career as a hairdresser.

"The way I saw it at that age was if I leave school and start my career ASAP then I can get on top ASAP, but it really didn't go that way," she said.

But while studying at TAFE she began suffering intense back pain from standing up for long periods.

"So I would actually have to leave the classroom and lay down on the couches outside. I couldn't stand up.

"I had to sit or lay and even when I was sitting or laying it hurt."

X-rays revealed she had a spine condition, scoliosis, which crushed her career hopes.

"The doctor said to me the worst two career lines I could have gone down were hairdressing or dentistry. So plan A failed," she said.

Shortly after that diagnosis she fell pregnant, giving birth to a daughter, Amber, at the age of 16.

She had another girl, Skye, a little over a year later.

Fast forward to 2014 and the 23-year-old is unemployed, unskilled and finding it hard to get a job.

"Just being young in general and having kids I do get looked down upon by other people ... but even with my scoliosis I'm not going to let that hold me back," she said.

It is a struggle fellow Logan resident Rebekah McMaster knows well.

Rebekah left school at the end of 2012.

She did not want to go to university but could not crack the job market.

"It is disheartening and it makes you feel like you're not really worth anything," she said.

"I was applying for like 10 [jobs] a week - anything I could find – admin, fast food. I just wanted something to get me started.

"[I] just wanted my foot in the door but you're not even getting nos. Sometimes you're just not getting noticed."

Finally, after more than a year on unemployment benefits her luck changed and she won a 12-month contract as a trainee admin officer.

"I was told there were 340 applicants," she said.

"And that's only the people going for admin. That's impossible to compete against so it's all about chance."

Worst-case scenario unfolding, group says

A report by the Brotherhood of St Laurence has found a double whammy in youth unemployment – the rate is rising rapidly and those on Newstart benefits are on them for longer.

It says the unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year olds is now 12.5 per cent, more than double the overall unemployment figure.

In Cairns, the youth unemployment rate has jumped 88 per cent in two years.

In Brisbane's south and west it is more than 60 per cent.

In Sydney's Hills district it is up 73 per cent and in Melbourne's east the increase is almost 50 per cent.

Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Tony Nicholson says the average duration of unemployment has also risen - from 16 weeks in 2008 to 29 weeks as of February 2014.

"We knew we had a big problem with young unemployment but this is almost the worst-case scenario unfolding before our very eyes, where large numbers of young Australians are unemployed for longer than a year and really struggling to get a foothold in the world of work," he said.

Mr Nicholson says there are simply fewer unskilled jobs for school leavers.

"What I fear is if this trend continues - and there's nothing I can see that suggests that it won't - and nothing is done about it, unemployment rates amongst our young people of between 20 per cent and 35 per cent is going to be commonplace in Australia within the next two or three years," he said.

At the same time that the youth unemployment rate is rising, the Federal Government looks set to cut funding to Youth Connections, a nationwide network of services for the young unemployed.

National executive officer Rebekha Sharkie says the providers have helped about 30,000 jobseekers with support and training advice.

"It's our understanding Youth Connections will end this December," Ms Sharkie said.

"For future funding for young people, whether that be Youth Connections or something similar, we will be looking for something in this May budget and we're not seeing any indications of that at the moment."

A spokesman for the Government says the future of Youth Connections will be revealed in the budget, but existing services for adults are well placed to support the young unemployed.