Academic journal article Economia

Out-of-School and Out-of-Work Youth in Latin America: A Persistent Problem in a Decade of Prosperity

Academic journal article Economia

Out-of-School and Out-of-Work Youth in Latin America: A Persistent Problem in a Decade of Prosperity

Article excerpt

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The widely studied demographic window of opportunity seems to be reaping some of its benefits during the first years of the twenty-first century in Latin America.1 As predicted, a historic sharp decline in economic dependency rates started in the 1990s-and in some countries a decade earlier-with the acceleration in the growth rate of youth aged fifteen to twenty-four years, relative to those under fifteen and over sixty-five. This means that the share of the working-age population (and the potential for increasing productivity) is close to maximum levels. Furthermore, the patterns imply that the situation will prevail for about twenty years, until the sixty-five-and-over age group begins to grow faster, which will bring new challenges to the region.

Since the window opened, the 2000s have witnessed the highest real growth rates of gross domestic product (GDP) since the 1970s, reaching levels of over 4 percent, on average, in 2008. At the same time, there have been important reductions in poverty, from almost 40 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2009. The previously persistent high income inequality levels also seem to be registering a decline.2

This more prosperous environment has not been free of problems, however. If the region is not able to invest in generating enough educational and employment opportunities for the fast-growing fifteen-to-twenty-four age group, then the window will not be fully capitalized, and the possibilities of producing enough resources to support those over sixty-five in the future will be considerably hindered. Moreover, having a growing youth population divorced from productive activities such as accumulating human capital or actively participating in the labor market not only undermines the future potential of this cohort, but could also raise challenges to society as a whole by contributing to crime, addictions, disruptive behavior, and lower social cohesion, among other risks.

This is especially sensitive for those in the fifteen-to-twenty-four age range who are neither in school nor in the labor market. If this situation is not addressed soon, Latin America will not be able to seize the demographic opportunity, which would have significant development consequences. This group of individuals, which we refer to as out of school and out of work (OSOW) for the purposes of this paper, is subject to increasing vulnerability and lack of opportunities, which represents a source of potential risk for society at large in areas such as crime, addiction, and insecurity.

Within this group, those between fifteen and eighteen years of age are particularly worrisome. At this stage of the life cycle, as compared with those aged nineteen to twenty-four, there is little ambiguity that being in the formal education system is the most desirable and socially productive activity.3 In most countries, those eighteen and under are still considered school age and are supposed to be attending high school or its equivalent; furthermore, those under the age of fifteen have generally not reached the legal working age and their physical, mental, and emotional development process is still under way.4 At this age, being in school in a protected and constructive environment is determinant for developing individual personality and a capacity for decisionmaking, constructing behavioral patterns, accumulating human capital, acquiring capabilities for social interaction, conforming one's personal identity and relationship toward peers, and developing civic values.5 These are also critical years for integration into the community, for acquiring social values, and for building trust in institutions and the rule of law. Without adequate protection, support, and integration mechanisms, OSOW youth are exposed to situations that may negatively affect their future development prospects and threaten others in their societies.6

This paper explores the situation of OSOW youth in Latin America, with special attention on those in the fifteen-to-eighteen age range, in order to identify adequate policies for supporting them and reintegrating them into society. …

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