In August, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) released a report titled ‘Tackling the COVID-19 youth employment crisis in Asia and the Pacific’. The pandemic has impacted the economic futures of young people around the world, it confirmed. For the purpose of the study, the ILO and the ADB defined young as those in the age group of 15 to 24. “Scarring does occur when a young person has to start out their working life in times of economic crisis like the current,” says Sara Elder, head of the regional economic and social analysis unit for Asia and the Pacific at the ILO, and a lead author of the report. Excerpts from an interview.
What are the long-term social scars that job disruptions are likely to leave on young populations in India and around the world?
A young person starting out their working life now is likely to have a lower wage trajectory and face more spells of unemployment or under-employment. These findings are universal so there is no reason to think that a young person in India would be shielded from this. But there are some particularities of the labour market in India that are especially worrisome — particularly in terms of what this crisis means for the job prospects of young women.
Even in ordinary times, so few young women move into employment after finishing their education. In 2018, only 10% of young women in India were economically active compared to 42% of young men, according to a periodic labour force survey. It is hard to think that this share could get any lower — it is already one of the lowest female participation rates in the world — but young women will know they have very little chance of finding work in this period so their own life decisions could change as a result and all this could easily push the share of economically active young women below 10%.
How are disruptions in education and training likely to add to the worries of the youth?
Training and work-based learning opportunities like internships have been disrupted. Education offers a chance of social mobility and school children, especially in lower-income countries, have lost the most classroom time. At the same time, being well-educated is no guarantee of finding a compatible job. There were many cases of educated young people in India doing relatively low-skilled work in the gig economy both before the crisis and since it began. This is an unfortunate characteristic of middle-income economies with large youth populations. There are simply not enough high-skilled jobs to go around, meaning many youth will remain under-employed.
Is there any data to indicate what we could be facing in the months and years to come?
We do not have sufficient labour market data to provide reliable estimates on the number of young Indians losing work as a result of the pandemic. Young people were certainly more affected. Our report showed that youth unemployment rates were rising more quickly than adult unemployment rates in the early months of the crisis, in the countries with available data. This is consistent with previous economic crises, where young people are the first to be let go by struggling enterprises.