Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Youth Unemployment A Global Issue

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, April 25 / 22

Zack Gross

Many people wonder these days why our political systems face such instability and conflict.  There is a complex and toxic mix that has led many around the world to take extreme measures, especially as we see in the news, major and violence demonstrations – farmers in India, working people in Sri Lanka, anti-lockdown activists in many European countries and here at home, and more.  We also see the strengthened popularity of right-wing groups and parties, and some formerly middle-of-the-road parties moving noticeably to the right.

There is not one reason for all of this.  Generally, many people feel that government has not brought them the benefits of citizenship that they have expected, such as making a good living and having their social welfare needs met.  People don’t seem to blame the private sector for this as much as government, although as companies complain of low sales and hike their prices, they continue to pay their CEOs exorbitant bonuses.

The World Economic Forum, no radical group, a collaborative institution of governments, private sector, academia and leading civil society actors, has isolated five major factors behind the challenges that face our society – and undermine its civility – in 2022.  At least, for me, these five have led to one of the major obstacles to stability in our world – the issue of unemployment, and especially for youth.

The first issue, of course, is the COVID pandemic which has had a huge negative global impact for over two years.  Lockdowns, while deemed necessary, have particularly impacted on the retail and hospitality sectors where many young people, and people on lower salaries, find themselves.  It also has affected those who we might call “day workers” who don’t have steady jobs but work at the margins of society doing menial work, have no savings and therefore, if they can’t find work, are immediately at risk.

The Financial Crisis of 2008-09, says the Global Economic Forum, is another factor, with a crisis of confidence still on the minds of many who were affected by real estate bubbles, shady financial dealings and loss of homes and incomes.  Thirdly, our outdated education system, argues the Forum, means that training and job strategies are not able to keep up with world events, thus leaving young people or those who lose their jobs, unable to pivot into new realities.

The fourth issue is the on-going and growing climate crisis that is causing severe environmental and property damage around the world.  National and international budgets are going into coping with the cost of the pandemic and the fires, floods and other natural disasters that come with a “worsening” climate, instead of being dedicated to economic development and poverty alleviation. 

Finally, global violence has affected our world economy.  Even ignoring the various coups, fallen governments and regional wars taking place around the world – as well as the civil violence that has come with the pandemic – the situation in Ukraine in itself will create global hunger and economic loss.  We see it in the increase in gasoline prices, food items and the rise in inflation (currently 6.7% in Canada) which began with COVID.

The International Labour Organization estimates that during the pandemic, 255 million people lost their jobs, many of them women, young people and those already poor.  Youth means 15 to 24 years of age globally.  Canada’s unemployment statistics for last month, March, were 9.8%, an improvement from 10.9% the previous month.  Overall, both our national unemployment rate and Manitoba’s stand at 5.3% as of March, but youth unemployment is more than double, at 12.6%.

The World Economic Forum has five suggestions for steps forward in response to their five issues of concern.  These are global initiatives but are appropriate for our country and our province.  The first is job creation, calling upon governments and industry to find new and old ways to employ the many people looking for work.  Education and training is next – calling for a global strategy that will teach people the information and skills they need to fill jobs for today and tomorrow, as the market and our society dictate.

The forum calls upon leaders to consider how those who’ve lost employment can re-enter the workforce.  This process needs to include a plan that ensures we won’t fall back into the same problems that made us vulnerable to the crisis in the first place.  Social protection is the fourth pillar for the Forum – making sure that the jobs we create are equitable and not exploitative.  We want to create wealth in everyone’s hands to build society back up with confidence in all its members.  And this leads to the fifth, worker’s rights.  The Forum sees the value in workers being organized to have their say in issues of the day, particular in those that affect them through their work.

I was pulled into this issue by a colleague in Africa who was trying to design a program in his country that would bring hundreds of thousands of young unemployed or under-employed people out of poverty, boredom, frustration and potentially resulting civil violence.  It is a challenge we must all take seriously.

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Brandon-based international development organization, and co-author of the new book The Fair Trade Handbook: Building a Better World, Together.

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