Latin American youth are finding it increasingly difficult to find gainful employment. Of the region’s 108 million people in the 18 to 24 year age bracket, 21.8 million of them are known as NEETs – not in employment, education or training. In Spanish they are called NiNis – ni estudian ni trabajan (they do not study, nor do they work). NiNis are a stigmatized group, pegged as lazy, unmotivated and apathetic.
To make matters worse, many Latin American youth who do find jobs end up working in poor conditions and lack the protection of labor rights. Six in every 10 young people in Latin America work in unlawful labor conditions, according to a recent International Labor Organization report.
The ILO study, titled Trabajo decente y juventud: políticas para la acción (Decent Work and Youth: Policies for Action), also reported that the youth unemployment rate is three times as high as that of adults and twice as high as the overall rate. Young people are unable to find decent jobs even though the current generation is better educated than any previous cohort.
In Guatemala, 78 percent of NiNis work informal positions doing housework and other menial chores. Yet the hard core of NiNis exists in Paraguay and Uruguay, with 48 and 45 percent of young people respectively neither employed, nor enrolled in an academic institution.
Several causes for youth unemployment exist. Education is key – if the education system is not in sync with an area’s labor market, graduates will not leave their educational institution with the necessary skills to break into and thrive in the workforce. Population growth has also contributed to the existence of such high numbers of unemployed youth around the globe. Additionally, during times of economic hardship, employers are more likely to lay off younger workers who do not represent as significant of an investment as their older, better trained counterparts.
The fundamental problem, outlined by the ILO report, is that not enough opportunities exist for Latin American youth. Guy Rider, director of the International Labor Organization, says that the “lack of access to opportunities for decent work generates frustration and discouragement among youth. There are 108 million reasons why we must act now.”
The good news is that some organizations are acting. Work4Youth, a collaborative project between the ILO and MasterCard Foundation, seeks to match underprivileged youths aged 14 to 24 with local businesses in order to give young people the resources they need to break into the workforce. W4Y has operations all around the globe, and it maintains a presence in Brazil, Peru, El Salvador and Colombia.
The young generation currently entering the workforce is a valuable resource. Some estimates hold that if unemployment among young people were halved, the global GDP would experience an increase of 4 to 7 percent. In the words of 21-year-old Astrid Estefanía Garibay of Mexico: “People think ‘young’ and ‘NiNi,’ and they think about drug addicts and bums.” These young people simply need help connecting with opportunities rather than being stigmatized for their employment status.
– Kayla Strickland