Wanted: more jobs for the young
The past year saw good news and bad news on the jobs front in the country.
The good news was that the unemployment rate broke below 5 percent to a new record low of 4.7 percent—the lowest I have seen on record. This brought the number of jobless Filipinos down to 2.04 million from 2.37 million the year before, or a drop in the ranks of the unemployed by 332,000 workers. Even more remarkable, this drop in unemployment happened even with a higher labor force participation rate, or the percentage of those of working age (15 years or older) who actively looked for work if not already employed. All together, the labor force grew by 1.54 million workers, but was well outstripped by the 1.88 million net new jobs our economy created in the same period—a remarkable feat in light of our history of “jobless growth” over more than a decade.
So what’s the bad news? The bulk (78 percent) of the jobless are young workers between 15 and 34 years of age; half are in fact 24 years old and below. More than one in every three (34 percent) had actually gone to college, and one in five (20.5 percent) is a college graduate. In short, our country’s unemployment problem is actually a youth unemployment problem. Too many of our potentially most productive workers are out of work. This is not a good situation to be in when we have lately been priding ourselves in our relatively unique position of having a dominantly young population, now and especially in the next 30 years when much of the world would face the problem of aging.
If it’s any consolation, we are not alone in this problem of youth unemployment. The International Labor Organization, in its latest World Employment and Social Outlook (2016), observes that global youth unemployment is on the rise, after a number of years of improvement. ILO projects the number of unemployed youth globally to reach 71 million in 2016 and remain at this level in 2017. The deterioration is particularly marked in emerging economies, where youth unemployment is projected to worsen from 13.3 percent in 2015 to 13.7 percent in 2017. In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, ILO projects the youth unemployment rate to rise steadily over the coming years, from 12.4 percent in 2015 up to 13.6 percent in 2017. This means that more than half a million youth will have joined the pool of unemployed in the region by 2017.
These trends, if not arrested, will push young people to migrate, looking abroad for better education and job opportunities. ILO cites data showing that in 2015, almost 51 million international migrants were aged between 15 and 29, more than half of whom moved to developed economies. In that year, 20 percent of the global youth population in that age range expressed willingness to move to another country permanently. The problem facing them is that favored developed-country destinations are lately becoming inhospitable to migrants, the latest example being the United States, where the new president won on a perceived anti-immigration policy position.
But there is hope. The solution now appears to lie increasingly in the youth themselves, as we see more and more young people taking the lead in creating the needed jobs for their age cohort. Many of them are creating new and innovative enterprises in economies being fast transformed by new technology, including in traditional industries such as agriculture and transport. They pursue creative and innovative products and services, along with new business models made possible by the age of information and communication technology. All these could be facilitated by a supportive business environment enabled by improved infrastructure and enlightened policies.
With this in mind, the Philippines is pushing youth entrepreneurship and innovation among the key economic themes as host and chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year. Asean, after all, is a region where unemployment is particularly a problem of the young. And the Philippines, notwithstanding recent strides in reducing joblessness, must make sure its dominantly young population is productively employed well into our future.
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