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The condition of our youth (Part 1) Published: Sunday | January 30, 2011 1 Comment Don Robotham 12> What

is the economic condition of Jamaican youth? When we look at the data, six points stand out: First, the youth population, although still large, is declining. Second, the issue of improving youth literacy and numeracy is a crucial one for all categories of youth. Third, it is not only unemployed youth who face serious economic problems: we have thousands of 'working poor youth', especially in the 20-29 age group. For such youth, the issue is not just 'jobs' but the quality of the job. The fourth point to note is that the construction sector is the single most important sector for youth employment. About one-third of employed youth in the 20-29 age set are in construction and installation. Gender is another key issue (think the growing number of women gas station attendants). Generally, female unemployment rates are about 1.5 times higher that of males. Yet women are as high as 54 per cent of all those employed in the 20-29 age set in the construction sector. As many as 40 per cent of all employed young women (20-29 only) make their living in that sector. Finally, the rapid islandwide urbanisation (not to be discussed here) is a very important factor in understanding youth conditions in Jamaica today. General Trends Although the youth continue to be a significant segment of our total population (about 673,000 persons), they are a declining part. The youth declined from 30.5 per cent of our total population in 1985 to 24.9 per cent in 2009. As Table 1

makes clear, by 2020, the youth will have declined further to only 23.2 per cent of our total population. The reason for this is that, contrary to popular perception, Jamaica is a country with a low birth rate and even lower population growth rate. The crude birth rate, which had already fallen to 20 per thousand in 2000, is currently 16.3 per 1,000 and projected to fall further to about 12 per 1,000 by 2025. The population growth rate, already at 0.52 per cent from 2000, is currently at 0.33 per cent and is projected to fall further to 0.26 per cent by 2025. Indeed, by 2035, Jamaica will have negative population growth of -0.09 per cent and will face a problem not of its youth bulge, but of its ageing population. Neither School Nor Work Let us consider briefly some of the data on the employment situation of our youth. Next week I shall discuss unemployment. What Table 2 reveals is that as many as 59 per cent (399,137 persons) of the total population in the 15-29 age group are either outright unemployed or 'not in the labour force'. The second key point is this: The largest group by far is those who have stopped looking for work altogether and who have dropped out of the labour force completely. This is a shocking 331,551 persons - roughly half of the entire age group. And we wonder why we have a crime problem! Taking 'younger youth' (15-19) by themselves, as many as 88 per cent (220,752 persons) are in this position - in neither school nor work. Human Infrastructure As shown in Table 2, the total number of employed youth is 273,801 persons, constituting about 41 per cent of the entire 15-29 age group. If one looks more closely at the data, it is

clear that employed youth dominate the 20-29 age set, comprising a total of 258,467 persons, or 61 per cent of that age set. Much more attention needs to be paid to these 'older youth'. It is utter folly to assume that since they are in some form of employment, they are fine. The chief problem facing these employed older youth is the low quality of the jobs they currently perform. These jobs cluster at the bottom end of the labour market, are overwhelmingly unskilled or semi-skilled, pay low wages, have low productivity, no career structure, no job security, and no housing trust, pension or other benefits. In addition, working hours can be long, irregular, and exhausting. Young construction workers and mechanics are typical of this set. Table 3 sets out the industry group of all employed youth in the age set 20-29 only. A key conclusion from these data is the following: Any policy which seeks to improve the conditions of employed youth must focus on the construction sector. Every major construction project, starting with the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP), must be about developing human, not just physical, infrastructure. About 10 per cent (US$40 million) of the JDIP budget needs to be set aside purely to upgrade the skills of young workers, male and female. The point is not just to provide temporary jobs for the youth to win votes; the point is to make a lasting change in the living conditions of youth, which would actually win even more votes! Let us use construction projects to upgrade young people in the labour market so that in the future they will not just be 'common labourers' but have access to higher-quality jobs. Finally, on literacy and numeracy: until the youth survey is completed, we will not have good up-to-date data on this key area. However, here are some old data (1999) which may not have changed all that much in some respects: the level of formal training in the employed labour force is still about 26 per cent; and about 74 per cent of all unemployed youth

had no educational certification of any kind, although 26.8 per cent had four years or more of secondary schooling. However, from 20 years ago, 18.5 per cent of the unemployed youth had one or more GCE/CXC (probably more today). We also know that about half of HEART/NTA applicants fail the entrance exams (most do not even sit). Further, only 11.5 per cent of HEART/NTA graduates achieve beyond Level I (semi-skilled). A rapid feminisation of HEART/NTA enrollees has taken place, with about 80 per cent of those in popular areas like information technology and tourism being women. Low levels of literacy and numeracy are the chief obstacles preventing young people from advancing from the unskilled or semi-skilled level into better-quality jobs. Professor Don Robotham is an anthropologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com. Source: STATIN. Jamaica Labour Force Survey, 2009 [Computer file]. Kingston, Jamaica: STATIN [producer], 2009. Kingston, Jamaica: STATIN and Derek Gordon Databank, University of the West Indies [distributors], 2010