The International Labour Organization (ILO) warned that, without a reinforced capacity to respond to the disproportionate effect of the health crisis on young workers, the legacy of the virus could be with societies for decades, exacerbating existing inequality among countries and within them.
“The risk of leading to a lockdown generation is real. No country is spared,” said Paula Jahn, from the child protection organization SOS Children’s Villages, to EL UNIVERSAL.
“The lockdown generation will be composed of those young people severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic – very similar to the financial crisis 10 years ago,” she added.
When crises break out, companies open no vacancies, cut internships and salaries and reduce working conditions: “Young people are the most vulnerable […] The most severe consequence of not developing their work potential is that they will not be able to make a contribution to society,” warned the staff researcher based in Vienna, Austria.
She observed that before lockdowns, business disruptions, travel restrictions, and school and training centre closures, the situation of young people was already alarming.
According to the ILO, before the pandemic, more than 267 million young people were not in employment, education or training. The share of women was above 31% against 13.9% for men.
Unemployment in ages 15-24 was on the rise. The Global Youth Index was at 13.6% in 2019, above 12.3% in 2007 – the prelude to a global financial crisis.
This group was more likely to move into a poor quality job. Three out of four young workers worldwide were employed in the informal economy in 2016, although the rate was 96% in sub-regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.
Now that lockdown measures are being lifted, it remains to be seen whether those who were working manage to keep their job.
The outlook is not promising, especially for the 178 million young people who were working in the four sectors most affected by social distancing policies: hospitality and food, trade, manufacturing activities, and real estate.
Nearly three quarters of young people working in these sectors (131 million) were employed in the informal economy.
“No doubt, youth will be among those severely affected by the pandemic-driven financial crisis. Many will lose their jobs. Others, particularly college graduates, will not be employed,” insisted Jahn.
Another group at risk is that of students who will not be able to overcome the impact of suspended school classes and training lessons. This includes young people who could not engage in distance learning – an introductory method to mitigate school closures – due to technological or infrastructural issues.
It is estimated that half of the students attending schools that closed due to restrictive measures have no computer at home and around 43% have no internet at home.
According to a Global Survey on Youth and Covid-19 as part of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, 60% of young women and 53% of young men are uncertain and concerned about their professional future.
About half of the young students are afraid of delayed school completion, and 10% of young people believe they will not be able to complete their studies.
The report is clear, “Those consequences may have a negative impact on the mental well-being of youth.”
No Place to Go
The youth universe has a more vulnerable demographic subgroup – those who, for various reasons, grow up in foster families, live in troubled families or are deprived of parental care.
“They require the particular attention of the international community, [as] they were less likely to find a job to begin with. During a crisis such as the coronavirus, there is a risk they are left behind,” she added.
Nirali, 20, grew up in an SOS Children’s Village in Faridabad, India. She left her hometown to study social work at the Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya University in Indore, India. However, after the pandemic, her dreams are in danger. When the crisis broke out, everyone left the dorms, except her. She had no place to go and no one to ask for help.
“I was left home in the student accommodation for more than 30 days. I have been living alone since the lockdown,” she related.
Nirali expected to be independent, rent a department and enjoy herself, but now the pandemic has significantly reduced the likelihood not only of finding a job but also of pursuing her studies.
“All of them are young people at risk of being left behind,” said Jahn while pointing out that challenges will be different among continents and countries.
For example, in Europe, one in three young people is working in the sectors most affected by coronavirus, while Africa – the region least equipped for distance learning – reported the highest number of closed schools during the pandemic.
To prevent the impact of the crisis on young people from leading to the loss of a generation and their entire productive capacity, Guy Ryder, ILO Director General, called for urgent, specific large-scale policies.
For this organization, it is necessary to provide immediate and unprecedented support to workers and companies by providing financial, tax and other aid.
The ILO intends to boost the economy and employment through an active fiscal policy, as well as through regulatory interventions to address the challenges faced by young people, especially the most vulnerable.