Much has been said and written about the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. We have listened to confusing rhetoric and polemics, and been given an overdose of notions and narratives, some of which could be fake news. (You can verify the accuracy of what you read in the social media with snopes.com and factcheck.org.)
The local media had consistently paraded middle-aged workers and senior citizens as victims of this pandemic. My friend Khalid Hassan, director the International Labor Organization Country Office for the Philippines, discussed the ILO’s report on the pandemic at ANC, and my suspicion that young people are the hardest hit by this pandemic was confirmed.
On May 27, 2020, the ILO released its fourth edition of the ILO Monitor: Covid-19 and the World of Work, which Mr. Hassan graciously allowed me to use for this column.
The ILO noted that 94 percent of the world’s workers live in countries with workplace closure measures in place. Assuming a 48-hour workweek, ILO conservatively estimates a “reduction in working hours of 10.7 percent relative to the last quarter of 2019, which is equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs.” The biggest losers are the Americas (13.1 percent) and Europe and Central Asia (12.9 percent). In the informal sector, says Mr. Hassan, “1.6 billion people in the informal sector are in danger of losing their jobs or livelihood.”
The lockdown generation
The major victims of the Covid-19 pandemic are the youth of the world, as they suffer the brunt of adverse social and economic consequences of the pandemic. The ILO believes that there is a “risk that the youth will be scarred throughout their working lives — leading to the emergence of a ‘lockdown generation’.”
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the youth in “three major ways: disruption in their education and training, unemployment and lost income, and greater difficulties in finding decent jobs.” Obviously, this is not the kind of legacy that we want to youth to inherit.
Let’s understand pre-Covid-19 global and Philippine youth data. According to ILO, 178 million young workers around the world (roughly four of 10 young people) were working in hard-hit sectors of the formal economy, while 77 percent or 328 million young people had jobs in the informal sector, when the crisis started. ILO estimates that youth informality rate ranges from 32.9 percent in Europe and Central Asia, to 93.4 percent in Africa. Before the pandemic, 267 million young people were not in employment, education or training (NEET), including 68 million unemployed youth.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there were 19.9 million Filipinos aged 15 to 24 as of October 2019, of whom 7.371 million are in the youth labor force. Of these, 6.425 million are employed. Four of 10 young males and two of 10 young females were employed in the formal sector before the crisis began. Likewise, 946,000 young persons were unemployed as of October 2019, and the unemployment rate then was 12.8 percent. As of April 2020, the youth unemployment rate swelled to 31.6 percent (or a 147 percent increase over the 2019 rate); while the national unemployment rate swelled to 17.7 percent (or a 234 percent increase) during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, PSA reported that 2.481 million among Filipino youth were not in NEET. This figure must have increased by now.
Impact on education an employment
A recent joint survey by the ILO, the Unesco — United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Bank showed massive disruptions in both TVET (technical and vocational education and training) as well as in OJT (on-the-job training), as “98 percent of respondents reported a complete or partial closure of technical and vocational schools and training centers. Although over two-thirds of training is now being provided at distance, often online, few low-income countries have actually made that transition.”
Mr. Hassan continues, “if you take the Philippines’ case, there is only 60 percent internet coverage, and this could mean that 40 percent of the youth could not avail of the digital training. This also means that they will encounter more difficulties transitioning into jobs.”
Another survey by ILO and partners of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth made startling revelations, “One in six young people surveyed have stopped working since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. Among young people who remained in employment, working hours have fallen by 23 percent. Moreover, around half of young students report a likely delay in the completion of their current studies, while 10 percent expect to be unable to complete them at all.”
These conditions could really take a toll on the health and well-being of the youth. The same survey has concluded, “On a standardized scale of mental well-being, more than half of the young people surveyed have become vulnerable to anxiety or depression since the start of the pandemic.”
ILO has realized that even in the best of times, young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to be unemployed. At best, they could find themselves in jobs of poorer quality than those of adults (aged 25 and above). Another stark observation is the growing informality all over the world. The ILO reported that in 2019, more than “three-quarters of young workers were in informal jobs (most notably in Africa and South Asia), which render them vulnerable to economic crisis and shocks.” The Philippines seems to have the same informality rate.
Mr. Hassan describes the triple threat to young people today, as contained in the ILO report, “On top of the longer-term challenges, the Covid-19 crisis is affecting young people around the world in three ways: 1) disruption in education and training, which could reduce potential employment opportunities and earnings in the future; 2) the current wave of job losses, and the collapse of businesses and start-ups, are reducing earnings and employment (and threatening rights at work); and 3) the emergence of greater obstacles to finding work, (re-)entering the labor market and trying to transition to better jobs.”
ILO also reported, “Exclusion of young people from the labor market, given the long-lasting impacts, is one of the greatest dangers for society in the current situation. In the long run, the combined educational and labor market crises threaten not only to imperil the quality and quantity of jobs, but also to exacerbate existing inequalities across and within countries.”
The ILO Monitor prescribes, “The ILO calls for urgent and large-scale policy responses to prevent long-lasting damage to young people in terms of education/training and labor market prospects.
Governments need to provide comprehensive solutions to the above challenges, combining elements from all four of the ILO policy framework for responding to the Covid-19 crisis.”
The ILO policy framework consists of four pillars. Pillar 1 is about stimulating the economy and employment — active fiscal policy, accommodative monetary policy, and lending and financial support to specific sectors, including the health sector.
Pillar 2 is about supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes by a) extending social protection to all, b) implementing employment retention measures, and c) providing financial/tax and other reliefs for enterprises.
Pillar 3 is about protecting workers in the workplace, with programs that a) strengthen occupational health and safety measures, b) adapt work arrangements (e.g., teleworking), c) prevent discrimination and exclusion, d) provide health access for all, and e) expand access to paid leave.
Pillar 4 is about relying on social dialogue for solutions to a) strengthen the capacity and resilience of employers’ and workers’ organizations, b) strengthen the capacity of governments, and c) strengthen social dialogue, collective bargaining and labor relations institutions and processes.
With systemic and people problems in education and work, how will the future of the youth look like? The unforgettable United States President John F. Kennedy once said, “The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.”
US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aptly said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
Ernie is the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines’s Human Capital Committee, co-chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines’s Technical Working Group on Labor Policy and Social Issues, and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines. He can be reached at [email protected]