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The Lockdown Generation: COVID-19 and Youth

The Lockdown Generation: COVID-19 and Youth

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The general economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is well documented. For example, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the pandemic has generally led to:

  • an immediate fall in economic activity;
  • a slowdown in global demand affecting certain exports, remittances, tourism and foreign direct investment (FDI) to the region;
  •  collapse in commodity prices, mainly oil prices;

l the risk of bankruptcy for many companies, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) which represent 99 percent of all companies in the region and generate more than half of jobs; and

l disproportionate economic dislocation for low-paid and informal workers, and women.

However, where more analysis is required is with respect to the impact of the pandemic on Millennials and Zoomers – the demographic cohort born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s; and the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s, respectively. Writing in World Politics Review, Shane Markowitz writes that youth unemployment was already a problem before COVID-19. In Latin-America and the Caribbean for example, Markowitz notes that youth unemployment increased from 13.7 percent in 2014 to 17.6 percent in 2019. Markowitz writes that the pandemic is creating a “lockdown generation”, as unemployment threatens to affect the current generation of youth in unforeseen ways.

The Youth Division of the United Nations (UN) Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) notes that prior to the onset of COVID-19, youth (aged 15 to 24) were already three times more likely to be unemployed in comparison to adults. Meanwhile, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 126 million young workers were in extreme and moderate poverty worldwide. A study conducted by the ILO in April 2020 further revealed that the pandemic had caused one in six young people to lose their jobs, as well as a 23 percent average reduction in working hours for those still employed. Without targeted policy intervention, UNDESA indicates that young people will be disproportionately affected by a global recession, with a higher percentage of them being unemployed both during the recession and in any ensuing recovery.

The World Health Organisation’s head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned of a parallel youth mental-health crisis, while UN Secretary-General António Guterres has cautioned of a “lost generation of youth”. Within this “lockdown generation,” as the ILO calls them, the situation is especially dire for adolescent girls and young women, indigenous youth, young persons with disabilities, young people living with HIV/AIDS and young people with physical or mental health conditions, who face an elevated risk in relation to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

Markowitz suggests that countries should find a way to erect a safety net for young people, and fast, contending that a “failure to act to protect vulnerable youth populations, in particular, could be politically and socially calamitous.”

UNDESA notes that social protection measures such as cash transfer payments and unemployment support are being expanded in some jurisdictions on a temporary basis. The World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that governments can also take measures such as providing incentives for firms to employ young people, bolstering regulations that will prevent the exploitation of ‘low-skilled’ (and often young) workers, such as the National Living Wage, minimum wage, and unpaid internships.

ºWithout targeted interventions for young people, the ILO warns that the resulting economic impacts of COVID-19 could last for decades. Therefore, to safeguard the welfare of young people, especially the most vulnerable, policies and measures to support their economic empowerment during and after the pandemic are essential. These policies and measures should not only safeguard their livelihoods in the short term, but also form the basis for building long term social safety nets for young people.

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