Carefully laid career paths that suddenly become dead ends, college degrees that no longer open doors, coveted overseas jobs gone in an instant. Whenever the acute phase of the pandemic eventually fades, the crisis will be far from over for young workers in emerging economies.
Worldwide, youth employment fell by 8.7% in 2020, vs. a 3.7% drop for adults, according a report the International Labour Organization published in June. Although labor markets continue to rebound in line with the global recovery, ILO’s researchers noted that unemployment data compiled by governments offer only a partial picture of the problems. Their report highlights a different metric, the share of young people not in employment, education, or training—the so-called NEET rate— which has yet to return to pre- crisis levels in most countries.
Niall O’Higgins, one of the authors of the ILO report, warns of the consequences of being shut out of the labor market for an extended time. “Clearly there is a serious danger that young people being out of work for a long period is likely to damage both the individual’s earnings prospects and the society’s productivity and long-term earnings potential.”
The damaging effects go beyond economics. In countries with relatively young populations, having a large number of out-of-work youth can contribute to criminality and political instability.
Warnings of lost generations aren’t new, though. A lot of ground was made up—eventually—in the years after the global financial crisis. Optimists argue that those under 30 are in prime position to learn new skills. Innovative technologies and the gig economy offer opportunities their predecessors didn’t have. And accelerating the pace of vaccination will lead to borders reopening, allowing some young people to seek opportunities abroad.
Still, the challenge will be to create enough jobs for all those joining the workforce. Even before the pandemic, the United Nations estimated the world would need to mint 600 million jobs over the next 15 years to meet youth employment needs.
Governments are going to have to get creative, says Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer, maybe even designing big employment programs aimed specifically at young people. “Having people out of employment is much more costly than we realize. It’s not just the income they would receive or the things they make on the factory line that we lose,” he says. “We lose the process of skill acquisition that goes with being on the job.”
In the following pages you will meet six young people who will tell you about the obstacles Covid-19 has laid in their paths.
Trisha Nicole Miayo
18% youth unemployment
Trisha Nicole Miayo, from Laguna province in the Philippines, says she felt fortunate to land a job in the U.S. right after graduating from college in 2019 with a degree in hospitality management and culinary arts. Working as a line cook for a hotel in Savannah, Ga., she made as much as $1,600 a month—more than five times the typical pay for a similar position back home.
Less than a year into her new job, Miayo was laid off when Savannah declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus in March 2020. Because she was a contract worker, she wasn’t eligible for severance or unemployment benefits. “I can’t explain the fear,” she says. “I was in a new country, I had to pay my rent and my bills, and suddenly I had no work.”
Miayo looked for employment at other hotels and restaurants, but there were no jobs. She would have accepted a position at a convenience store or caring for children, but she struck out there as well. “My father warned me against going home,” she says. “He said I was better offif I could stay in the U.S., but I just didn’t have enough savings to wait for a new job.”
After returning to the Philippines in April 2020, Miayo tried to set up her own online business selling secondhand clothes (including her own) and other items, but it didn’t take off. Finding a job where she could make use of her degree has been impossible.
The youth unemployment rate in the Philippines eased to 18% in September, from a pandemic high of 32% in April 2020, but it remains almost double the national jobless rate. Employed young Filipinos also recorded fewer hours of work.
Miayo now runs her sister’s mom and pop shop, earning about 5,000 pesos ($100) a month—just enough to pay for her groceries, she says. Now that the United Arab Emirates has reopened its borders, she wants to use what’s left of her savings to go to Dubai to look for employment. If that doesn’t pan out, she knows she might have to put her dream of working in a professional kitchen on hold and consider what’s available—most likely a job at a call center. “By 2022 it will be nearly two years since I’ve had work,” she says. “Sometimes I feel a bit worthless.” —Claire Jiao
Paulo Henrique Furlan
3.5m College-educated Brazilians who are underemployed
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