International Youth Day

Youth employment crisis: disarming the pandemic-triggered time bomb

By the start of 2021, the youth unemployment rate in Latin America and the Caribbean had reached 23.8 per cent and nearly three million had left a workforce dominated by informality. There is a risk of a "lockdown generation" the ILO warns on International #YouthDay2021.

News | 12 August 2021
Lima, Peru (12 August, 2021) – Latin American and the Caribbean countries face the urgent challenge of taking action to defuse the "time bomb" caused by high unemployment, informality and lack of opportunities for young people created by the COVID-19 crisis, says Vinícius Pinheiro, ILO Director for Latin America and the Caribbean in a message to commemorate International Youth Day.

"The young population is among those who suffer most intensely from the social and economic consequences of the pandemic in the region, and they will face the effects of it in their working lives in the coming years, running the risk of becoming a lockdown generation," Pinheiro points out in the message published on 12 August on the ILO website.

"Strategies specifically aimed at improving youth employment will be needed if we are to defuse the profound impact of the pandemic," adds the ILO Regional Director. "Otherwise, the aftermath will last a long time."

The message highlights that according to the most recent data compiled by the ILO, the average unemployment rate for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 would have reached 23.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, the highest level recorded since this average began to be compiled in 2006. It represents an increase of more than three percentage points compared to the pre-pandemic level.

At the same time, the youth labour force participation rate contracted, falling by about three percentage points to a level of 45.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, implying that at the beginning of the year between two and three million were kept out of the labour force due to the lack of job opportunities.

"This generation has experienced the impacts of COVID-19 in many ways such as the interruption of their educational or training programs and the bridge to the labour market (apprenticeships and internships), the loss of employment and income, and the prospect of facing greater difficulties in finding an occupation in the future," says Pinheiro.

His message also states that, "even if the demand for employment begins to show more favourable conditions alongside greater economic dynamism, employment opportunities for young people will continue to be very restricted."

At the same time, "the already high incidence of informality among these workers, which affected six out of 10 young people before the pandemic, is at risk of increasing further."

The lack of youth employment opportunities can affect people's career paths and limit their chances of accessing decent work in the future, the analysis highlights. But they are also "a source of discouragement and frustration, which can lead to conflict situations and even affect governability at various levels."

"The protests that had erupted in various countries in this region before the pandemic were led by young people. After a ferocious crisis that has left many people hopeless, we have already seen how in some countries these young people have come out again to claim a future," says Pinheiro.

The message also highlights that meeting the challenge of youth employment requires a combination of policies specially designed to address a structural and complex problem.

The measures must aim to increase the supply of jobs, stimulate the recruitment of young people, support businesses and entrepreneurs, and also boost education and training in such a way that they respond to the new requirements of labour markets, including those of the digital revolution.

"There is one fundamental aspect to take into account when designing strategies to promote youth employment after this atrocious pandemic: we cannot do without the contribution of young people," Pinheiro advises.