More than one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said, calling on governments to take urgent action to prevent the risk of a “lockdown generation”.
“The COVID-19 economic crisis is hitting young people – especially women – harder and faster than any other group. If we do not take significant and immediate action to improve their situation, the legacy of the virus could be with us for decades,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.
In a new report titled ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work: Fourth Edition (pdf), the United Nations agency on jobs and employment emphasises that even the young people who have remained working have seen their work hours cut significantly, by as much as 23 percent.
The losses are across the board as 94 percent of the world’s workers live in countries where some kind of coronavirus-induced workplace closures have been implemented.
Not only have the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns and restrictions destroyed jobs, they have also disrupted education, internship opportunities, and other training programmes meant to prepare young people for the labour market.
These disruptions will put a major strain on young people’s ability to enter the workforce when pandemic restrictions lift, Ryder stressed.
“If their talent and energy is sidelined by a lack of opportunity or skills, it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to rebuild a better, post-COVID economy,” he warned.
Young people were already at an employment disadvantage even before the coronavirus crisis hit.
In 2019, global youth unemployment was 13.6 percent. Some 267 million young people worldwide did not have jobs, and were neither enrolled in education or training programmes.
Moreover, those between the ages of 15 to 24 who were employed were most likely to work jobs that left them vulnerable, such as in low-paid and informal sectors.
The ILO has urged governments to quickly take action that would prevent a pandemic-induced jobs crisis by passing and implementing policy that supports young people. This includes funding employment and training programmes in developed countries and low-and middle-income countries.
Young people must have access to decent and productive work in order to prevent lasting and irreversible damage, the report added.
Examining measures that create a safe environment for returning to work, the report concluded that rigorous testing and tracing of COVID-19 infections, “is strongly related to lower labour market disruption”.
Such measures help countries find and use data to make informed decisions rather than solely relying on restrictive lockdown measures.
In countries that test and trace, the average drop in working hours is reduced by as much as 50 percent. The measures help promote public confidence and disruptions to work and businesses are minimised.
ILO chief Ryder says that a recovery with people getting back to work also means promoting sustainable solutions and getting people working again in safe conditions.
“Testing and tracing can be an important part of the policy package if we are to fight fear, reduce risk and get our economies and societies moving again quickly,” he added.