Joblessness among region's youth chronic

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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THE most valuable asset for the future economic and social development of the Caribbean is its young people. Regrettably, that asset is going to waste by inadequate education, migration and unemployment.


Youth unemployment, in particular, has reached crisis proportions because of the adverse impact of the global economic recession since 2008 and ineffective domestic macroeconomic policy. In recent years, Caribbean economies have averaged 0-1 per cent growth, with Trinidad and Guyana being the exceptions.


The economic crisis, accompanied by high indebtedness and fiscal deficits, has severely constrained the capacity of our governments to stimulate economic growth and employment. The World Bank reports that between 2007 and 2013 unemployment increased in The Bahamas by 73 per cent; in Barbados by 57 per cent; in Belize by 53 per cent and in St Lucia by 47 per cent. Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda experienced slower growth in joblessness. In Jamaica unemployment rose from 9.4 per cent in 2007 to 12.7 per cent in 2011.


Unemployment is considerably higher among females than among males in most countries. The most marked case is Belize, where unemployment among women was almost three times that of men. In other countries the jobless rate is nearly twice as large for women.


Youth unemployment is even worse because many of those seeking jobs have no work experience. In the majority of Caribbean countries, youth unemployment is double the rate of overall unemployment. In Jamaica, youth unemployment is about 2.4 times higher than overall unemployment. Those younger than 20 years have the highest unemployment rates. In Barbados, individuals aged 15 to 19 years old face unemployment five times higher than the total unemployment.


Some Caribbean countries are among the countries with highest youth unemployment rates in the world. In particular, Guyana and Grenada, where it is approaching 50 per cent. The main factor that accounts for this wastage of youth human resources is lack of skills. Poor education is evident because the pass rate in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Math and English is 45 per cent on average. Even more worrying is that 28.1 per cent did not pass any subject and 24.65 per cent passed only one. Enrolment rates in secondary schools is only 80 per cent on average in the Caribbean and enrolment in tertiary education is ridiculous, with St Lucia, Guyana, and Antigua having enrolment rates below 15 per cent.


Notably, the unemployed remain idle for long periods. Half of the unemployed in Dominica and in Grenada and one-third of unemployed in Barbados and St Kitts have been unemployed for more than a year. Prolonged unemployment can lead to low morale, erosion of discipline and deterioration of knowledge.


Youth unemployment and what we in Jamaica call unattached youth often leads to migration and involvement in crime and violence. All of this makes a large part of the Caribbean's youth become what Sir Arthur Lewis called "unemployable".


The quality of human resources is the critical ingredient in a country's economic development. With such a large share of Caribbean youth being unskilled, uneducated and unemployed and the loss of skilled, educated youth through migration, it is a perhaps a gross understatement to say that the region's future is bleak.


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