Vanessa Muñoz, 24, and Hector Quiroga, 22, haven’t met, but they have a lot in common. Both are from poor families; both have children; both live in the same district of Bogotá; and neither has completed secondary education. They are also both members of a 95-million-strong generation of Latin Americans aged 15 to 24 that is being hit hard by the global economic crisis.
The 2008 recession ended five years of growth in Latin America that created jobs and market access for many of the region’s young adults. Around the globe, there were an estimated 81 million unemployed young workers in 2009—almost 8 million more than in 2007—reflecting a sharper rise in youth unemployment than ever before. In Latin America and the Caribbean, where young workers are three times more likely to be unemployed than their elders, formal youth unemployment rose from 14.3 percent to 16.1 percent between 2008 and 2009.
Take Muñoz, for example. She ekes out a living handing out flyers for a dentist in Bogotá. Every day, she travels to her assigned street corner wearing a yellow and purple jacket with an OdontoFamilia logo on it. She earns $5.20 per day and isn’t sure how long the job will last. “My boss doesn’t like me,” she admitted. “He has total control and could fire me any time.” She says most big companies require more practical experience than she has and that higher paying jobs have become scarcer in the last few years. For Vanessa, who dreams of a career in computer science, prospects are bleak. “I know the government talks about incentives for education,” she says, but “most programs do not spill out to poor communities.”
This article is based on Ford Foundation-funded research on the private sector and social inclusion. Matthew Aho is manager of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas. Richard André is a policy associate at Americas Society and Council of the Americas.