The truth behind Australia’s ‘dole bludger NEETs’

There's more to it than a refusal to work.

There's more to it than a refusal to work. Photo: Getty

This week’s “dole bludger” exposé is a “completely irresponsible” portrayal of Australia’s youth unemployment that scapegoats victims and fails to address the underlying causes of the problem, according to advocates.

News Corp interviewed two young female ‘NEETs’ outside Centrelink and published their comments widely on Thursday as a news report and editorial in The Daily Telegraph, and with analysis by


Ashleigh and Amy say they don’t want to work.

‘NEET’ refers to someone who is Not in Education, Employment or Training. It usually describes an unemployed younger person who has left high school and hasn’t gone on to university or TAFE.

The young women, Ashleigh, 21 and Amy, 17 of the Sydney suburb of Mt Druitt, were filmed telling a News Corp journalist they refuse to look for work and are happy to “chill” at McDonald’s instead — to the glee and disgust of many readers.

Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) president Owen Bennett said the report was “completely irresponsible” because it chose to “scapegoat the victims” rather than address the causes.

“It’s completely irresponsible for any media outlet to approach the youth unemployment crisis in that way, blaming young people for a crisis that has been a systematic policy failure by governments for a long time,” Mr Bennett told The New Daily.

“That report is a continuation of about three decades of perpetuated stigmas diverting people from the real issues that are going on in the Australian economy, which is no jobs and a completely punitive social security system.”

No focus on skills shortage

The basis of the News Corp article was an OECD report released this week, which was arguably more nuanced.

The report did warn that Australian NEETs risk being “permanently left behind in the labour market”; that our 580,000 NEETs have increased by 100,000 since 2008; and that 40 per cent are inactive and unwilling to work, and 19 per cent want a job but aren’t looking.

What News Corp did not mention is that Australia’s NEET level is below average: 12 per cent of 15-29 year olds, versus the OECD average of 14.6 per cent. This is below New Zealand (about 20 per cent) and the US (about 15 per cent), and far below Italy and Greece (about 30 per cent).

It also failed to note that Australia’s NEETs have a skills shortage problem. The rate of young Australians who are low-skilled NEETs (4 per cent) is lower than the OECD average (5.3 per cent), but higher than comparable countries like the US, Canada and South Korea.

No mention of other challenges

Foreign investors are buying into the debt bubble. Photo:Getty

Housing is getting more expensive for the young. Photo: Getty

Foundation for Young Australians CEO Jan Owen said the News Corp report, and another published this week, overlooked the many challenges facing millennials.

Rather than sneering at the young, the nation should reform the education system to better serve them, Ms Owen told The New Daily.

“We also have to back and invest in our young people to shape the world they want to live in. We need to help them break away from the prejudices, fears and insecurities which hold them back and prevent them from building character and resilience.”

A recent report by the Foundation found that:

  • Youth unemployment has remained stagnant since 1985;
  • Youth under-employment is 3.4 times higher than it was 20 years ago;
  • It now takes young Australians 4.7 years to transition from full-time education to full-time work; and
  • It now takes the average first homebuyer 15 years to save a deposit for a home loan, compared to the six years of their parents.

No mention of ‘birth lottery’

Sadly, life resembles a genetic lottery. Photo: Getty

Sadly, life often resembles a genetic lottery. Photo: Getty

Perhaps the most tragic aspect overlooked by News Corp is that family background is the biggest predictor of success — and failure.

This is often referred to as the ‘lottery of birth’, and has been proven in many pieces of academic research, including this 2014 study by the US Bureau of Economic Research and this 2009 paper published in the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly.

The AUWU’s Mr Bennett described intergenerational poverty and unemployment as a “massive issue” among the unemployed Australians he represents.

“I’m not sure about these girls, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re from an intergenerational family of unemployment and maybe they were born into a situation where their parents struggled,” Mr Bennett said.

“Confronting so many barriers, it’s no surprise that people decide to take a little bit of happiness from life and do their best to survive, which is what a lot of young people are doing.”

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