The COVID-19 pandemic has caused surging unemployment worldwide, but has hit young workers especially hard, forcing more than one in six people aged under 29 to stop working, the United Nations said Wednesday.
In a fresh study, the International Labour Organisation warned that the novel coronavirus crisis disproportionately affected young people, and could impact upon their work opportunities and career options for decades to come.
‘I don’t think it is giving way to hyperbole to talk about the danger of a lockdown generation,’ ILO chief Guy Ryder told a virtual press conference.
‘As we recover from the pandemic, a lot of young people are simply going to be left behind. Big numbers,’ he said, warning that ‘the danger is... that this initial shock to young people will last a decade or longer.
‘People will be permanently scarred by the immediate effects of the pandemic.’
Even before the crisis, the global youth unemployment rate stood at 13.6 per cent in 2019 — far higher than for any other group — while some 267 million young people were neither employed nor in education or training.
Overall, the ILO study said it expected the coronavirus crisis to obliterate 10.7 per cent of working hours worked globally during the second quarter of 2020 compared to the final three months of 2019 — the equivalent of 305 million jobs.
But while all age groups are suffering, the UN agency pointed to recent data from a range of countries indicating ‘a massive increase’ in youth unemployment since February, with young women particularly hard-hit.
In Canada for example, the overall jobless rate rose six percentage points from February to April, but for young people it swelled by 14.3 percentage points (to 27.1 per cent) and for young women it ballooned by 20.4 percentage points to 28.4 per cent.
Similar trends were seen in the United States and a range of other countries, the report said.
The ILO said it did not yet have enough data to determine the overall youth unemployment rate since the crisis began.
But in a survey of people aged 29 and under, it found that globally, over 17 per cent of those who were working when the pandemic hit had been forced to stop.
And those who have continued to work have meanwhile seen their working hours cut on average by 23 per cent, the study found.
The report warned that young people were facing a ‘triple shock’ from the crisis, which was not only destroying their employment but had also disrupted education and training, and has made it far more difficult to try to enter the labour market or move between jobs.
It found that about half of students expected their education to be delayed, while 10 per cent now believed they would be unable to complete their training at all.
And a full 60 per cent of young women and 53 per cent of young men surveyed viewed their career prospects ‘with uncertainty or fear’, the report found.
The ILO report called for an urgent and large-scale response to the crisis, including employment and training guarantee programmes for young people.
‘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 re-build a better, post-COVID economy,’ Ryder warned.
As a growing number of countries begin loosening lockdown measures, the ILO also called on them to step up testing and tracing of suspected COVID-19 cases to help get more people back to work.
The report found that rigorous testing and tracing was ‘strongly related to lower labour market disruption’, with the average fall in working hours up to 50 per cent lower in countries that had followed this path.
This, it said, was linked to the fact that testing and tracing reduced the need for strict confinement measures, and boosted public confidence to visit shops and restaurants.
It also stressed that testing and tracing could create new jobs, even if only temporary, which could be targeted at young people.
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