One In Six Latin American Youths Left Work Since Pandemic’s Start

Recent reports have shown that one in six young adults across Latin America and the Caribbean, mainly aged 18 to 29, have left work since the pandemic has begun. This is due to several issues in the labour market around specialization, lower wages, and poverty. According to a report done by the International Labor Organization, employers were responsible for the layoff of more than half of Latin American youth. Others were due to businesses closing and the inability to physically go to work in the informal sector due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. Job losses also caused many interruptions in education and training programs.


A majority of job losses happened at the beginning of 2020, and simultaneously, the numbers of young people in education fell by around 8%. The report stated that unemployment affected many people aged 15 to 24, and the unemployment rate of these groups grew by 3.5%. This number is almost double the unemployment rate of those over the age of 25. It is hypothesized that this is because of young people’s lack of appropriate education, training, or professional experience. Without these, they cannot accumulate human capital and become more and more distant from “decent work.”


“Feelings of sadness, fear, and anxiety, as well as discouragement following the crisis, prevail among young people where a greater proportion than in other age groups say their well-being and mental health has also deteriorated,” says Reuters. The pandemic has certainly exacerbated these feelings of hopelessness. However, they have been prevalent for years in the past. In a study done back in 2014, out of the 108 million people in the 18 to 24 year age bracket in Latin America, 21.8 million were known as NEETs or not in employment, education, or training.


In Spanish, they are called NiNis, ni estudian ni trabajan. In translation, this means “they do not study, nor do they work.” The group is thought of to be lazy, unmotivated, and apathetic. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Latin American youth have a tough time finding jobs. When they do, they are often in low conditions and lack the protection of basic labour rights such as insurance. It has been found, in another study done by the International Labor Organization, that six out of every ten young people in Latin America work in unlawful labour conditions. Even back in 2014, the unemployment rate in these youth groups was still twice that of older groups. Other studies showed that the rate was triple that of the adult unemployment rate. This could be because many employers do not believe that younger people have the necessary skills to do specific jobs.
However, if they don’t receive that experience from somewhere, this turns into a negative feedback loop that is very difficult to get out of. Even with a better education than any previous generation of Latin American youth, the unemployment rates show how tough the job market has become in more recent times, especially with the pandemic.


Individual Latin American countries see their discrepancies in the data. In Guatemala, 78 percent of NiNis do menial work, including housekeeping and babysitting. However, Paraguay and Uruguay know the majority of Latin America’s NiNis. 48 and 45 percent, respectively, of the youth in these countries are either unemployed or not enrolled in an academic institution. Education has increasingly become a barrier to a decent job for many young people in Latin America. However, this is not always their fault. The education system in many of these countries is not in sync with the labour market. Many graduates do not leave their respective institutions with the necessary skills to thrive in the workforce. Another big reason for unemployment is population growth. There are just too many young people looking for jobs nowadays. They are also the first ones to be let go off, as they are not as experienced as their older counterparts. And in general, the most fundamental reason is that there just aren’t enough openings. This causes massive discouragement for many young people who receive rejection as their first taste of the real world. They then stop looking for jobs after being turned down multiple times. This causes massive social isolation for many, which can cause psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety as they get older, and problems and stress start to pile upon them. As these generations grow older, they constantly live in poverty and are unable to fend for their families. This is a cause of chronic stress that constantly activates the stress response systems and causing high levels of stress hormones. These high levels can cause things such as neuronal death and neurodegenerative disease as they get older. And with Coronavirus, there are even more risks. The condition can rampage throughout several communities, especially those who live in poverty. These communities cannot protect themselves and are unable to get the proper medical care if and when they do get infected. High rates of mortality in impoverished communities have been evidence of this.


In the Caribbean, unemployment in youth is even worse. There, around 1 in every four are unemployed in 18 to 24 compared to 2 out of 25 older adults. This is one of the highest in the entire world. There is a significant gender gap, as well. 30% of young women are unemployed compared to 20% of young men. There are many graduates of secondary and tertiary institutions who amass considerable amounts of debt, similar to the United States but are unable to get even the menial jobs of housekeeping or taxi driving. Many have to go to more developed countries, such as those in North America, Holland, and the UK, to get better opportunities. Caribbean states are trying to combat these problems, however. They are pushing towards more career-based internships and apprenticeships after education to give their youth the appropriate experience they need to make headway in the workforce. Actions are being taken in other Latin American countries, as well. There are efforts to improve the quality of jobs in countries such as Colombia and Mexico. There are also efforts to match the salaries between the Southern Cone and the rest of the region to create a more homogenous standard. These things take effective labour intermediation policies, investments in training, and clear regulations by various governments. More attention must also be brought to these issues and policies by non-government organizations.


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