Youth: Leaders during the pandemic

September 7, 2020

Margarita Vaca

September 07, 2020

On August 12, the International Youth Day was celebrated as a synonym of hope, justice and renewal. In recent years, we have witnessed leadership in social movements focused on dignity, especially in gender equality, climate change and human rights, as well as  efforts to promote a more just and inclusive society through activism and social demonstrations, even during the pandemic.

During this confinement, young people have worked to include the priorities and interests of the community and youth, in the new public and government agenda, prioritizing sustainability, racial and gender equality (See Youth voices for change: Are you listening?).

However, due to COVID-19, youth has also faced significant challenges as they are disproportionately affected by the multidimensional crisis and its long-term effects, particularly the negative effects on their mental and emotional health; In labor market, employment and income loss, as well as greater barriers to being hired; And due to the interruption of educational or training programs.

Health and well-being priorities for youth

About half of mental disorders begin at the age of 14, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 (WHO, 2020a).

Although the drastic changes that COVID-19 has imposed have impacted everyone’s emotional and psychological stability, young people are the most affected. Children and teenagers face emotional difficulties that are potentiated by stress in the family environment, social isolation, interruption of education and insecurity about the future (WHO, 2020b). In addition, in some cases, young people are victims of domestic violence.

During the pandemic, gender violence has increased. It is estimated that if violence increased by 20% during periods of confinement, there would be 15 million more cases of intimate partner violence in 2020, for a three months period of confinement (UNFPA, 2020).

According to the Youth and COVID-19 survey, the mental well-being of young women was seven percentage points more likely to show anxiety or depression compared to men.

On the other hand, there is an increase in working hours that lead to reduce the separation between professional and personal spaces. 17% of young workers have experienced a rise in their working hours from 7.3 to 10.3 per day (United Nations Sustainable Development Group, 2020).

Finally, the difficulties related to the pandemic, such as setbacks in socio-economic conditions, represent risk factors associated with crime, youth violence and drug use, where young people are exposed to greater victimization or to be part of crime groups (UNODC, 2020). Every year 200,000 homicides are committed worldwide among young people aged 10 to 29, equivalent to 43% of the annual global homicides (WHO, 2020c).

Health policies should continue focusing on providing communication channels and emotional support to both young people and their families in order to strengthen their abilities to face anxiety, depression and other possible feelings resulting from the pandemic which may affect their lives. 

Youth education: A multisectoral commitment

Almost 496 million young people were participating in programs of upper secondary education, non-higher post-secondary education and higher education (ILO, 2020b). According to the survey Young people and COVID-19: effects on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being, due to the pandemic, academic centers have had to close totally or partially and implement alternative learning methodologies such as video classes (57%), online exams (43%), and online homework (36%) (United Nations Sustainable Development Group, 2020).

However, the transition from the classroom to digital education has implied significant challenges in terms of connectivity, technological infrastructure, access to devices, lack of digital skills, among others, which have led several young people to interrupt their learning cycle and be forced to abandon their studies. Around half of young students are likely to finish their studies late and 10% will not be able to finish them (ILO, 2020b).

The collateral pandemic effects on the economic stability of countries have a direct impact on the financial profitability of both young people and their families, as well as the trend towards lower wages. These consequences limit the ability of young people to continue their studies and find jobs that match both their expectations and their professional training. Therefore, the professional perceptions of young people are divided between uncertainty (40%) and fear (14%) (United Nations Group for Sustainable Development, 2020).

The pandemic highlighted that education should not only be the priority of the ministry or government entity in charge, but the joint work of different organizations able to guarantee access without economic, social, geographical or cultural limitations, providing the necessary tools so that all young people have the same opportunities to enter the labor market, in order to avoid high levels of unemployment or informality that are far from social protection: Health, pension, welfare, among others.

Youth labor market: A short and long-term challenge

Between 1999 and 2019, the youth population (between 15 and 24 years old) [2] has increased by 30%, reaching 1,300 million young people who represent approximately 16.8% of the world population, being the highest youth population in history. However, labor force participation has changed from 568 million to 497 million. Likewise, the world youth unemployment rate stood at 13.6%. On the other hand, 55 million young workers (13% of the total) live in extreme poverty and 71 million live in moderate poverty (ILO, 2020a). Under this scenario, young people face the collateral effects of COVID-19 in the labor market.

Four out of ten young employees in the world (178 million) were working in the most affected sectors when the crisis began. For example, women represent almost 51 percent of youth employment in hospitality and food services. Likewise, 77% of young people had a job in the informal sector (328 million), while 267 million neither studied, worked or received training (“ninis”) (ILO, 2020b).

According to the 2020 Survey Report, one out of six young people, ages 18-29, have stopped working since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Likewise, the working hours of those who maintain their employment have decreased by 23% and two out of every five young people (42%) reported a reduction in their income. This situation is most profound in lower-income countries and impacts women the most (Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, 2020).

In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Youth survey against COVID-19 in the region led by the United Nations Group for Sustainable Development showed that almost 1 out of 3 young people who work, report a worsening in their employment situation. Likewise, it exposes the barriers and discrimination faced by young people with disabilities, who were looking for employment before COVID-19 (27.3%) and are exacerbated by the current crisis. Regarding unpaid domestic and care work, 45% of young people report an increase in these areas.

This shows the enormous impact of the pandemic on the labor market, which requires comprehensive employment generation policies that combine a balance between demand and supply. This implies a multisectoral strategic articulation, with special emphasis on the education sector. And in this way, reduce the risk of negative effects throughout the working life of young people and achieve an expansion effect in redistributive policies.

Final consideration

Governments must work with young people to formulate equity-focused public policies that incorporate present and future challenges faced by youth, as well as potential long-term risks of global impact in all society spheres.

These policies must be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which, given their “integrated and indivisible nature, global scope and universal application”, apply to young people directly or indirectly. Out of the 232 indicators, 68 contain information related to youth development and another 18 are considered highly youth-related in that they measure one of the priority areas of the Action Global Program (Links between youth development and development sustainable).

At the same time, young people are considered agents of change in the achievement of the SDGs for their transformation power through the actions they lead in favor of future generations for a sustainable world. Therefore, promoting their well-being, education and training, participation in the labor market and empowerment in the public debate becomes a key aspect to overcome this crisis.

[1] In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated August 12 as International Youth Day, following the recommendations of the World Conference of Youth Ministers (Lisbon, 1998).

[2] There is no universally accepted international definition of the age group that encompasses the concept of youth. However, for statistical purposes, the United Nations, without prejudice to any other definition made by Member States, defines young people as those between 15 and 24 years of age.


Other blogs of the author

Population and housing censuses: X-ray of the population for public policies |August 24, 2020

Gender, Data and COVID-19 | August 05, 2020

Interoperability: A common language for sustainable development | August 05, 2020 

Where to go?: COVID-19 and migration | May 15, 2020 

Human Development in the times of COVID-19: a collaborative challenge| May 05, 2020 

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