Unemployment among Latin America youths fuels 'lost generation'
A lost generation is emerging as unemployment soars among Latin America youths. Nearly 20 percent are neither studying nor looking for jobs.
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Gonzalo Saravi, an anthropologist who studies youths at the Center for Research and Superior Studies in Social Anthropology in Mexico City, says that crises can produce a positive phenomenon. For instance, he says, some youths – with no perceived opportunities on the horizon – stay in school longer.Skip to next paragraph
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But crises also produce a countertrend: Youths drop out of institutions altogether. These youths don’t just have low career expectations: Mr. Saravi says that “they’ve lost their expectations.”
Mexico’s US-dependent economy – the hardest hit in Latin America – contracted by about 6.5 percent in 2009, and the ranks of unemployed youths represent a grave concern. Many may end up working for criminal organizations battling one another in the country’s brutal drug war. Others may migrate illegally to the United States.
Juan de Dios Castro, a top education official in Mexico who heads the national adult education program, says that 700,000 young people dropped out of school last year.
Countries across the region are taking steps to address the situation.
Given the high number of drop-outs Mexico was seeing, Mr. Castro says his entity began coordinating with various state education departments a year ago to target recent dropouts and woo them back into the system. Once youths leave the education system, it can affect the rest of their lives. “It’s a vicious cycle,” he says. Many end up in low-paid informal jobs, like Mr. Rodriguez, the break dancer.
Chile has offered subsidies to low-wage workers ages 18 to 24, while Colombia’s National Learning center announced plans to provide 250,000 new spots for unemployed, poor youths between the ages of 16 and 26. Many countries in Central America have offered scholarships to young people. In Nicaragua, the government seeks to open up 1,000 new positions through pacts with the business community.
Challenges remain. According to a report released in December by the United Nations Development Program on youths and employment in the Southern Cone, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay report that those under age 30 make up 60 percent of the unemployed. In Paraguay, it’s 70 percent.
Luis Ramirez, who was break dancing with Rodriguez in Tlalpan, will be graduating this year with a law degree from one of Mexico’s most exclusive universities. He says he expects to find a job, but not doing what he wants to do.
“I’d say 90 percent of the class last year did not get what they wanted,” he says.
A sharp rise in youth unemployment could create a frustrated 'lost generation' of young adults who give up on career aspirations and turn to crime or join the ranks of illegal immigrants in the United States.