Lethbridge Park and Tregear among suburbs at ‘crisis point’ of youth unemployment

TRIALS: A young person rides past a Centrelink office in Logan, Queensland, where the Turnbull government is drug-testing welfare recipients. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP
TRIALS: A young person rides past a Centrelink office in Logan, Queensland, where the Turnbull government is drug-testing welfare recipients. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP

The effects of the 2008 global financial crisis continue to be felt in western Sydney, where youth unemployment and disengagement has been growing for a decade.

A Western Sydney University study Youth Unemployment in Western Sydney, authored by Professor Phillip O’Neill, examines the problem of disengagement in the region.

The geography and urban studies expert said solving the issue starts with government policy at a national level.

High unemployment (greater than 12.4 per cent) is reported across western Sydney, compared to average rates in the outer west and Blue Mountains, and low unemployment in the inner city, eastern suburbs and northern beaches.

Two pockets of Blacktown local government area, Lethbridge Park-Tregear and Bidwill-Hebersham-Emerton, were identified as having “crisis level” rates of youth participation in full-time work and study.

In the former, 26 per cent of youth aged 15-24 were unemployed.

Professor Phillip O'Neill. Picture: Supplied

Professor Phillip O'Neill. Picture: Supplied

The figures coincided with other markers of youth disengagement. Only 37.1 per cent of students finished year 12, and 15.6 per cent had a post-school qualification.

Young women in the suburbs were up to three times more likely to have children, limiting their ability to pursue education and job opportunities.

The suburbs had twice the proportion of low-income households, with residents twice as likely to be renting and half as likely to own a car compared to the western Sydney average.

The report also identified Mount Druitt-Whalan, St Marys-Colyton, and Doonside-Woodcroft as areas of concentrated youth unemployment.

While employment prospects are still better than regional and remote communities, the report said “geography is having a significant negative effect on the life chances of young people in western Sydney”.

Lower school completion rates and under-training mean career pathways for young people are limited to industries with more economic disruption, and people are “locked out” of sectors where there is persistent growth in full-time, well-paid jobs.

At the conclusion of the report, Professor O’Neill said solving the issue needs to start with better national policy for young people, to the benefit of greater Sydney and Australia.

“Our impression is that there is a political willingness to blame and berate young people for the employment and education conditions they experience,” he said.

“This makes no sense beyond political opportunism. Draconian measures for the payment of living assistance to unemployed and disengaged youth are not what good public policy theory and practice could ever countenance. Instead, there need to be direct measures that address each part of the problem.”

Professor O’Neill said raising school completion rates and easing the transition to tertiary education and training should be a permanent fixture of state and national education budgets.