Meeting youth unemployment head on
t 21 per cent, youth unemployment in Africa is much higher than the world average of 14.4 per cent and second only to the Middle East and North Africa’s 25.6 per cent. The high share of young people (ages 15–24) in Africa’s population contributes to the severity of the problem. There are notable differences in youth unemployment with regard to gender. The unemployment rate for young women in Sub-Saharan Africa is 18.4 per cent–lower than the unemployment rate for young men (23.1 per cent)–but young women’s labour force participation is lower as well. The lower unemployment and labour force participation rates for young women indicate the impact of cultural norms and role models, which restrict women’s employment options to unpaid household work. A further disadvantage for girls is their limited access to education, as compared with boys, which also limits their prospects for jobs in the formal labour market. Youth unemployment in Africa also has a geographical dimension: it is generally higher in urban areas than in rural ones. However, the lower youth unemployment figures in rural areas are likely to mask a significant amount of underemployment in low productivity smallholding agriculture. In fact, countries with a large formal agricultural wage sector, such as Kenya and São Tomé and Principe, have high youth unemployment in rural areas. Several factors account for the high youth unemployment rate in Africa, most notably low economic growth, which is manifested in low economic activity and low investment. Low economic activity entails low overall job creation. Given the sustained population growth rates, labour markets are not able to absorb all the newcomers, resulting in scarcity of jobs, which leads to more selection by education and experience; precisely the assets that young people are struggling to acquire. Lower enrolment rates, coupled with low completion rates, low quality of education and a failure to orient curricula with the needs of the private sector have contributed to the mismatch of skills of youth labour markets in Africa. Limited formal work experience and a lack of general and job-related skills also put young Africans at the end of the hiring list. The situation further deteriorated in the 1990s when downsizing meant that the public sector ceased absorbing qualified labour. Consequently, a rapidly growing informal sector has become the “sponge” that provides job avenues to all categories of youth labour, including skilled workers. The health status of young people affects their employment situation. Young people who are HIV-positive eventually become ill with HIV-related diseases, which can increase their 167
Youth unemployment in Africa is ranked second in the world
absence from work, reduce their productivity and lower their chances of being employed. If left untreated, people are ultimately unable to work. Unemployment has social as well as economic consequences for young people. Unemployed young people are forced to find alternatives to generate income, including activities in the survival-type informal sector and, in extreme cases, criminal activity. Urban youth unemployment is further exacerbated by rural-urban migration. Rural migrants believe that more jobs and social opportunities are available in urban areas, but once in the cities they find themselves without a job and with limited social networks. Trapped and discouraged by bleak job prospects, some turn to the sex, criminality and drug industries to survive. Youth joblessness also implies missed opportunities in the use of human resources to produce goods and services. In addition, smaller tax revenues result from a smaller tax base for income tax and indirect taxes such as the value added tax. A further implication is related to security. An increase of one percentage point in the ratio of people ages 15–29 to people ages 30–54 increases the likelihood of conflict such as...
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