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After COVID-19, one in every six young people is jobless

Young women train in skills for employment

A new report by the International Labour Organisation shows that more than one in six young people worldwide has become jobless since the onset of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), while those who remain employed have had their working hours cut by 23%.

According to the fourth edition of ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the World of Work, young people are being affected disproportionately by the pandemic. The report also finds that the substantial and rapid increase in youth unemployment experienced since February is affecting young women more than young men.

“The COVID-19 economic crisis is hitting young people – especially women – harder and faster than any other group,” the report says.

It shows how the pandemic is inflicting a triple shock on young people: destroying their employment, disrupting education and training, and placing great obstacles in the way of those seeking to enter the labour market or to move between jobs.

Long-lasting threat

The report says at 13.6%, the youth unemployment rate in 2019 was already higher than for any other group. In addition, there were roughly 267 million young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) worldwide.

The report says that those 15-to-24-year-olds who were employed were also more likely to be in forms of work which leave them vulnerable, such as low-paid jobs and informal sector work, or as migrant workers.

“The COVID-19 economic crisis is hitting young people – especially women – harder and faster than any other group. If we do not take significant and immediate action to improve their situation, the legacy of the virus could be with us for decades,” said the ILO’s director general, Guy Ryder.

“If their talent and energy is sidelined by a lack of opportunity or skills it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to rebuild a better, post-COVID economy.”

The Monitor calls for urgent, large-scale and targeted policy responses to support youth, including broad-based employment/training guarantee programmes in developed countries, and employment-intensive programmes and guarantees in low- and middle-income economies.

Testing and tracing pays off

The Monitor also looks at measures to create a safe environment for returning to work. It says that rigorous testing and tracing (TT) of COVID-19 infections “is strongly related to lower labour market disruption . . . [and] substantially smaller social disruptions than confinement and lockdown measures”.

In countries with strong testing and tracing, the average fall in working hours is reduced by as much as 50%. There are three reasons for this: TT reduces reliance on strict confinement measures; promotes public confidence and so encourages consumption and supports employment; and helps minimise operational disruption in the workplace.

In addition, testing and tracing can create new jobs in their own right, even if these are temporary, which can be targeted at jobless youth and other priority groups.

“Creating an employment-rich recovery that also promotes equity and sustainability means getting people and enterprises working again as soon as possible, in safe conditions,” Ryder said. “Testing and tracing can be an important part of the policy package if we are to fight fear, reduce risk and get our economies and societies moving again quickly.”

Loss of working hours

The Monitor also updates the estimate for the decline in working hours in the first and second quarters of 2020, compared with the fourth quarter of 2019.

An estimated 4.8% of working hours were lost during Q1 2020 (equivalent to approximately 135 million full-time jobs, assuming a 48-hour working week). This represents a slight upward revision of roughly seven million jobs since the third edition of the Monitor. The estimated number of jobs lost in Q2 remain unchanged at 305 million.

From a regional perspective, the Americas (13.1%), and Europe and central Asia (12.9%) present the largest losses in hours worked in Q2.

The Monitor reiterates its call for urgent measures to support workers and enterprises along the lines of the ILO’s four-pillar strategy: stimulating the economy and employment; supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes; protecting workers in the workplace; and relying on social dialogue for solutions.

Fred Dzakpata

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