Global youth on back foot as coronavirus hits education and jobs

People wearing face masks attending a job fair for college graduates in Bozhou, Anhui province, on June 18, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (BLOOMBERG) - Young people are being hit especially hard by the coronavirus crisis as their jobs dry up and education is disrupted, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The under-30s often work in sectors suffering the most from the pandemic, making them particularly vulnerable. While that's a familiar trait of economic crises, the current situation also raises concerns about long-term scarring because of huge disruptions in training, the ILO said in a report based on a global survey.

"How this will eventually impact the young people who will come to the labour market next year or in two years' time, that's a really big question," said Mr Sangheon Lee, director of the ILO's Employment Policy Department.

Both problems together mean "this disproportionate impact we already start to see will continue in the years to come".

The issue is one of a host of challenges for policymakers as they try to drag their economies out of the deepest slump in living memory. It also shows how the crisis aggravates problems with inequality, both within individual societies and between richer and poorer nations.

Millennials were already hit by the financial crisis more than a decade ago, leaving them with insecure work and stunted opportunities. They also faced a range of challenges at the onset of the pandemic, including a sluggish economy and the rise of automation, the ILO said in March.

A lack of vacancies is now expected to lead to a longer transition from school to work, according to the Geneva-based organisation. Younger workers and those in lower-income countries are also more likely to see their work reduced.

The move from campuses to online learning didn't go smoothly everywhere, revealing deep digital divides, especially in lower-income countries, according to the ILO. Nearly one in six of those polled said their education had come to a complete stop, and more than half expected their studies to be delayed.

The survey, which was conducted among 12,000 people in April and May, also sought to gauge the impact of the crisis on young peoples' mental health.

One in two are "possibly" subject to anxiety or depression, with a further 17 per cent "probably" impacted - potentially delaying the recovery in education and employment.

The survey also found the youth to be largely compliant with stay-at-home measures, while one in four reported being highly engaged in volunteering or making donations to the Covid-19 response.

European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde on Wednesday (Aug 12) urged contributions from young people to the institution's strategy review, calling them a "key motor of change" in a tweet.

The ILO called for "urgent, large-scale and targeted policy responses" to reintegrate those who lost their jobs in the labor market, for example through hiring subsidies or youth guarantees. Governments should also make sure unemployment benefits reach young people, and invest in infrastructure to support digital learning.

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