More than a decade after the global financial crisis sent youth unemployment rates soaring to an all-time high, a generation of young people once more look to a future filled with uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic sparks a new era of health and economic crises.
Young people are among the groups expected to be particularly affected by the pandemic’s economic fallout, and those in countries with already high youth unemployment rates will face significant challenges. Javier Saiz, a 24-year-old aspiring lawyer who grew up in an SOS Children’s Village in Cuenca, Spain, notes that the pandemic is compounding an already dire situation: at 34 per cent, Spain’s youth unemployment rate is among the highest in Europe, second only to Greece.
“Unemployment and job insecurity will increase, and I expect lower wages in order to counter the economic losses companies make during the peak of the pandemic,” says Mr Saiz. “Much to my regret, I think the long-term economic and labour effects of COVID-19 are going to be worse than those we witnessed in the 2008 economic crisis,” he adds.
As African countries are taking preventive measures to shelter the continent from being hit in full force, officials from SOS Children’s Villages in Cape Verde have begun developing, approving and implementing a contingency plan for SOS programmes in the African archipelago.
In addition to local focal points for the pandemic in all the villages- that includes psychologists and health coordinators- SOS Cape Verde has increased phone and online contact with young people in its programmes to ensure their wellbeing. The youth focal points and youth educators contact the young people in their programmes via phone or social media at least twice a week to check in on their wellbeing and mental health. The current pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues caused by isolation and loneliness, and it has become even more important to provide adequate support to young people, especially to those most vulnerable among them.
“I am anxious about the future and seeing what the situation will be after the crisis,” says 23-year-old Carlos Tavares, who grew up in an SOS Children’s Village in Cape Verde. “For sure the fight to find a job will be hard, as I was expecting even before the spread of the coronavirus.”
These sentiments are echoed by Silvania Monteiro, a 21-year-old woman who grew up in an SOS Children’s Village in Cape Verde and has since received a scholarship to study medicine in Portugal. “I fear that it will be difficult to find a job quickly as the current measures that are being implemented will affect young people everywhere who are finishing their studies in medicine and seeking their first job,” Ms Monteiro says.
Given this dire situation, what support do young people need to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their lives? Mr Saiz calls for the hiring of young people in strategic sectors of the economy and tax alleviation for companies that hire unemployed youth. Despite the difficulties expected to shape young peoples’ lives in the foreseeable future, hope remains. “Once we overcome COVID-19, we will see our friends and loved ones again. We will learn to enjoy our surroundings much more and value the opportunities that life offers us,” says Mr Saiz.
Equipping young care leavers with the tools they need to transition to independence and find decent work is the main objective of YouthCan! – SOS Children’s Villages’ global partnership for youth employability. Within three years, the programme has reached 5,700 young people with the help of six global partners, more than 200 national partners and 1,700 volunteers across the globe. Starting in 2017 in seven pilot countries, the youth employability programme now works with young people in 31 countries. The three pillars of the programme – mentor, train, practice – are tailored to the local labour market and the individual needs of each young participant.
Amid the global pandemic, SOS Children’s Villages is working to find solutions to continue to support young people everywhere on their path to finding decent work.
By Paula Jahn (SOS Children’s Villages International)
This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact email@example.com.
To bring youth voices to the forefront of action and policy responses, the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth (DJY) and its partners are conducting a survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth rights. Participate in the survey now!