The youth employment crisis is a global development priority. The youth demographic ‘bulge’ (a staggering 3 billion people under the age of 25, with 1.2 billion of them aged 15–24), a stubbornly high youth unemployment rate, a significant proportion of the working poor in vulnerable employment, and a high level of economic disengagement, together can create disaffection, drive migration, incite social unrest and slow progress towards development goals.
The least developed countries are particularly vulnerable to the combined effects of the youth demographic bulge and the high youth unemployment rate, which is disproportionately elevated compared to the rate of other age groups. In Africa, three out of five young people are unemployed, while in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the youth unemployment rate is six times that of adults. Available data suggest that, even during periods of economic growth, many economies have failed to absorb large youth populations in their labour markets and have hence fallen short of translating growth into greater economic opportunities for youth.
Young people account for an estimated 35 percent of the total worldwide unemployed. Unemployment rates of young women are significantly higher than those of young men, and the gender gap in the rate of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) is even wider. Globally, the NEET rate for females is 34.4 percent, compared to 9.8 percent for males. This phenomenon is even more acute in low-income countries. Disengaged NEET youth are at risk of contributing to social unrest or radicalization and being excluded from economic opportunities (e.g., participating in the economy as employees, subsistence-entrepreneurs or opportunity-entrepreneurs).
As youth transition from childhood to adulthood, they are faced with several constraints that limit their potential for finding their own pathways to productive economic opportunities: gap in skill set, limited access to finance, and lack of youth-friendly policies and programmes, are just a few examples. In order to overcome these challenges, governments are increasingly looking for practical solutions to help young people realize their full economic potential. In this context, access to financial assets and resources is gaining attention as a key contributing factor of youth’s economic empowerment. There is an urgent need for a sustainable model to build youth's resilience, in particular for young women, to successfully navigate school-to-work transitions, while adopting a capabilities approach to broaden youth employment opportunities. These pathways will enhance youth engagement with their local economies and support their access to opportunities within their immediate financial ecosystem.
How are we helping?
Since 2010, UNCDF has played a strong role in market development in the digital finance space and has significantly contributed to increasing access to finance for youth. As a result, as of June 2019, over 940,000 young people (47 percent women) have accessed financial and complementary non-financial services. Young people have saved over US$24 million with financial service providers. Over 390,000 young entrepreneurs have accessed US$76 million in loans. Simultaneously, we also expanded our support to include digital financial services for smallholder farmers, women, families with children, pensioners, and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). These efforts have led to creative approaches to the development of human-centric services and have fostered an innovation ecosystem around financial services.
UNCDF is now channelling its experience to support the development and scaling up of digital innovations that empower young people and smoothen their transition to adulthood, with the specific objective of increasing the number of youth engaged in entrepreneurship, decent employment, school, or further education and training.
In order to achieve our objectives, we will continue to invest in emerging ecosystems that facilitate access to finance for young people while stepping up our support of other digital innovations that provide holistic solutions for youth.