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Tackling the COVID-19 youth employment crisis in Asia and the Pacific

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has triggered a massive disruption of labour markets that has had disproportionate impacts on youth employment. Through lockdowns and travel restrictions, demand has slumped and many businesses have been forced to close or cut back operations, with serious impacts on workers. Nearly 220 million young workers (15–24 years) in the region are particularly vulnerable given their short tenure on the job, their employment in especially hard-hit sectors and their tendency to earn livelihoods in unsecure informal jobs.

The usual challenges of youth employment are heightened in economic crises. Given their relative lack of experience, young people face higher rates of unemployment than adults (25 and older) regardless of the business cycle. Young people are also more likely than adults to work in less-secure, lower-wage employment, frequently with limited legal rights, social protection, and representation. The current COVID-19 crisis brings the vulnerabilities of youth labour markets to the fore, but with the further complication of disrupted education and training pathways. Young people will be hit harder than adults in the immediate crisis and also bear higher longer-term economic and social costs. Pre-existing vulnerabilities of youth in the labour market will be exacerbated, with negative consequences for intergenerational poverty and inequality.

The crisis negatively impacts the prospects for youth through three channels. Young people are experiencing (1) job disruptions from reduced working hours and layoffs, (2) disruptions in education and training as they try to complete studies, and (3) difficulties transitioning from school to work and moving between jobs. The crisis will affect young people differently depending on their situation in the labour market. The scale of the impact will depend on the length of the crisis, the choices of governments in the socioeconomic recovery, and the capacity of institutions to implement effective measures.