Published on Jobs and Development

Don’t Forget Youth With "Jobs"

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In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about youth and jobs in the Washington, DC area. Making Cents held a conference on Global Youth Economic Opportunities. ManpowerGroup presented a report on How Policy Makers Can Boost Youth Employment. The State Department hosted the launch of the Youth Livelihoods Alliance. And the African Development Bank discussed its 2012 Economic Outlook: Promoting Youth Employment at the World Bank. 

Golden Rose Agrofarms Ltd | By June 13, 2008.

Perhaps it's not surprising that the main focus has been on how to help the unemployed youth find jobs - after all, the International Labour Organization estimates that globally around 75 million youth are unemployed. The proposed solutions to the problem are about creating good jobs and preparing youth to take them. "Jobs, skills, and experience," reads the Manpower report. ​

But a far more challenging problem is how to help the millions of youth who are in fact working but in very low quality jobs (they cannot afford not to work) and those who are "idle" - neither studying, nor working, nor looking for a job (the latter being grounds for not even registering in the official unemployment statistics)! Take countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Only 3 percent of youth are unemployed and these individuals are often skilled workers in urban areas living with their parents. However, over 25 percent are idle (Figure 1). Then among the 45 percent working (the rest are in school), 38 percent are self-employed (mostly in the agricultural sector), and 47 percent are unpaid employees (Figure 2). Those earning a salary, often in an informal job that lacks social security, represent a mere 14 percent of the employed.​

Figure 1: Sub-Saharan Africa has a low official "unemployed" level but high "inactive" level 
  Source: Labor and Youth Team, World Bank
Figure 2 Sub-Saharan Africa has far more unpaid employees than paid ones 
Source: Labor and Youth Team, World Bank

This reality is starting to sink in, as is evident in a recent interview I did with the authors of the 2012 African Economic Outlook. To begin with, even if African countries are doing much better than 20 years ago, and their economic growth prospects are good, there still won't be enough good jobs for youth - especially because the number of youth entering the labor market is growing so quickly (Figure 3). Indeed, you could double or triple the number of formal jobs in Africa by tomorrow, and still only 20 to 30 percent of the labor force would be covered. ​

Figure 3: Expected increase in the youth population by region
Source: Labor and Youth Team, World Bank

So what can be done? Agnes Soucat (Director of Human Development, African Development Bank) and Louise Fox (Lead Economist, Africa Chief Economist's Office, World Bank) suggest focusing on improving the productivity and earnings of the jobs that youth already have. It is essential that countries invest in agricultural development and basic infrastructure. They also need to increase local demand for goods and services, and here social assistance programs can help by raising incomes and consumption. ​

There are also some success stories about providing youth with practical training in certain crafts, behavioral skills, and basic business; facilitating access to credit; and even helping them connect with markets outside their locality. Most of the one- or two-person businesses won't grow much, or at all, and many will fail and be replaced. But if each one of them is able to generate more revenue and keep youth working and out of poverty, they will have been a great success. ​

This post was first published on the Jobs Knowledge Platform.

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