Up to 66 unemployed people are chasing every retail job, with vacancies often closed to young candidates within hours of being advertised, according to new research.
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) also found that two thirds of those applying for jobs did not receive any responses.
A separate report by the TUC found that young black men have experienced the sharpest rise in unemployment since the coalition came to power, with more than one in four of all black 16 to 24-year-olds currently out of work.
The reports, published ahead of the new unemployment figures on Wednesday, followed similar studies in recent days showing a big rise in long-term unemployment among young people.
JRF researchers sent 2,000 job applications from fictional candidates, with at least five good GCSEs and relevant work experience, to more than 650 vacancies for sales assistants, cleaners, office administrators and kitchen staff.
There were between 24 and 66 unemployed people for every retail vacancy, depending on the supply of jobs in different areas.
Vacancies were closed to candidates within days, and in some cases, hours, said the report.
The study, by researchers at York and Warwick Universities and the London School of Economics, found that only one in four of the vacancies studied offered full-time, day-time work.
Employers expressed a preference for local candidates with easy journeys to work even though jobseekers are required to look for jobs up to 90 minutes away from their home.
Chris Goulden, head of poverty at JRF, said: "It's important we have measures that provide more full-time, decent-paying jobs that can ensure work pays.
A lack of success in the jobs market saps confidence, demotivates and leaves a scar across a generation of young people, while part-time, low-pay work traps people in poverty.
"On the day the latest unemployment statistics are released, this report makes for grim reading for young people. The intense competition shows the main problem is more fundamental - a major shortage of jobs."