Young people finishing school, college or university this summer are facing the toughest outlook since 1994, according to a Trades Union Congress (TUC) analysis.
The TUC report, published last week, looks at both employment and education trends over the last 20 years, shows that the proportion of young people in full-time education has nearly doubled from 24 per cent in 1992 to 41 per cent in 2012.
Despite this surge in education, the proportion of young people who are neither working nor studying full-time today remains close to record levels at 20.4 per cent, the highest level since October 1994.
More than one in five (22 per cent) 16-24 year olds are currently unemployed, significantly higher than in 1992 when the rate was 16 per cent.
Employment and education participation rates started to improve after 1994 and continued rising until around the summer of 2001, when over 85 per cent of young people were either working or studying.
However, young people's chances then started slowly to decline and as the UK entered recession in 2008, the prospects facing young people deteriorated sharply and have been at crisis levels ever since. This was not as a result of falling levels of educational participation - which have remained relatively stable during the recession - but of falling employment rates, says the TUC.
Young men currently have a higher chance of being in either work or education than young women, with just over four in five (80.6 per cent) currently studying or in work, compared to just 78.5 per cent of young women. However, the chances young men have of being in work or education also remain lower than 20 years ago, says the TUC.
The TUC is concerned that with 488,000 16-24 year olds currently out of work for at least six months - a figure that is rising even as overall unemployment falls - the country risks losing a generation of young people to unemployment and under-achievement before their careers have even begun.
The TUC is calling on the government to do more to tackle our youth jobs crisis by introducing a guarantee of training or paid employment for any young person out of work for at least six months, and a new youth credit to provide additional training and job seeking support.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber commented: "Students looking to start their careers or continue in their education next month are facing the toughest climate for nearly 20 years."
He continued: "It is particularly worrying that long-term joblessness for young people is still rising, even as overall unemployment falls. If this continues we could lose a generation of talented and highly qualified youngsters to blighted careers, debt and under-achievement."
"Ministers should be doing everything they can to help young people but so far all they've done is cut vital financial support for college students and price people out of university. Jobs support has been scrapped, scaled back and then reinstated on the cheap. This is no sensible way to help young people into work or education," said Mr Barber.
"The government's economic strategy is holding young people back. It's time for a new plan that invests in their futures, rather than stunting careers before they've barely begun,: concluded the TUC chief.