NEET is a government classification, first used in the United Kingdom but whose use has spread to other countries, including Japan, China and South Korea. The classification is "Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training".

In the United Kingdom, the classification comprises people aged between 16 and 18 (some 16 year olds are still of compulsory school age). In England, Wales and Northern Ireland students must finish year 11 (year 12 in Northern Ireland). In Japan, the classification comprises people aged between 15 and 34 who are unemployed, unmarried, not enrolled in school or engaged in housework, and not seeking work or the technical training needed for work. The ‘NEET group’ is not a uniform set of individuals but consists of those who will be NEET for a short time while essentially testing out a variety of opportunities, and those who have major/multiple issues and are at long term risk of remaining disengaged.

In England and Wales

The NEET classification is defined by targets laid out by the DfES in the central government Transforming Youth Work document published in 2000. The classification is specifically redefined in other local government papers, such as "respondents who were out of work or looking for a job, looking after children or family members, on unpaid holiday or travelling, sick or disabled, doing voluntary work or engaged in another, unspecified, activity".

As of 2007, 9.4% of the age group was classified as NEET

The first large-scale study of the phenonomen, The Cost of Exclusion, estimates that up to a million young people cost the UK economy £3.65 billion per year.

In Japan

NEETs are now being observed to exist in Japan as revealed through employment statistics collected by the Japanese government. The growth in the size of the population classified as NEET (whose estimated size rose from 480,000 in September 2002 to 520,000 in September 2003, according to the Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) has been viewed with some concern by Japanese politicians, because of its potential for impact upon the Japanese economy. Other surveys done by the Japanese government in 2002 present a much larger figure of 850,000 people who can be classified as NEET in the Japanese population, and of those individuals, those in the twenty-five to thirty-four old age cohort comprised 60% of that total.

One main difference between NEET in Japan and U.K. is that Japanese Neet are often used as derogatory reference of youth who refuse to participate in employment, education or training. This reference is different from statistical definition of Neet which include homemakers and the disabled who cannot participate in job market or education/training due to their respective circumstances. In practice, homemakers or disabled persons are not usually referred as Neet in Japanese though they are statistically counted within the group. Therefore, Neet-ness in Japanese signify unwillingness or refusal to participate in job market or education rather than actual status of occupation. They are usually regarded as social leeches.

Unlike most of Western European countries, Japan's unemployment benefit terminate automatically after three to six months. Hence the existence of NEET in Japan is entirely financed by their parents. Moreover, it is relatively easy for young people to find part time work. Therefore, the problem is attributed entirely to individual's social withdrawal as well as the middle class parent's willingness to support such indulgence. This form of social withdrawal is strongly but not identically linked to hikikomori phenomenon. Some NEET may not be hikikomori while all hikikomori are NEET.

Another aspect of NEET in Japan is that it is seen as a symptom of Japanese working culture which some regard as unduly oppressive with routine demand for overtime and sacrifice of personal life, in extreme cases resulting in death at work due to overwork (Karōshi). NEET, hikikomori or freeter may belong to a proportion of the younger generation who are unwilling to or incapable of putting up with the values imposed upon them by older generations.

In Japan, NEETs are those who have rejected the accepted social model of adulthood in seeking full-time employment after graduation or further training through the governmental Hello Work schemes to obtain marketable job skills. Some experts state that NEETs in Japan are due to the extended economic stagnation in that country during the 1990s, which has led to a high percentage of unemployment amongst the youth segment of the population, 2.13 million by some estimates, reflected in a change in status of freeters, who were nominally employed, into NEETs.

NEET is distinct from freeter, the classification for those who continually move between low-wage jobs. Both are seen as a reaction by Japanese youth against the more traditional career path of being a salaryman. The development of freeters and NEETs in Japan may be an indication that the system of lifetime employment enjoyed by their salaryman fathers may be disintegrating in the face of economic hardship, or in the face of globalization, where individuals are expected to innovate and communicate across cultures, and where a defined employee role may not exist. The availability of life-long employment in a single company then, becomes increasingly untenable for both corporations and individuals. Others believe the NEET problem is much deeper. Professor Michiko Miyamoto believes that NEETs are a "breakdown of the social framework forged in an industrial society, by which young people become adults." NEET may be part of a growing subculture of young Japanese, including freeters, parasite singles, and hikikomori, who could be considered an extreme subgroup of NEET, that are generally dissatisfied with the options and opportunities available for them in the 21st century.

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