LETTERS: Youth need help to navigate the Covid crisis

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Written by Raphael Obonyo

Covid-19 has not only caused the biggest public health crisis that the world has experienced since World War II, but the global pandemic will widely affect the society for the long-term. The impact will be from the economy to employment, to the way we interact and transact business. Away from economic lockdowns, the pandemic is having a big impact on young people and the youth sector in a manner that urgent support services and emergency response and recovery funding are required now and in the future.

Before Covid-19, the youth were already among the most vulnerable groups, with a staggeringly high youth unemployment rate. Unemployment just before Covid-19 was a big burden for many young people across the globe and in Kenya. T

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) 2019 national census data which was released in February this year indicated that 5,341,182 or 38.9 per cent of the 13,777,600 young Kenyans are jobless, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

This is more than a third of Kenya’s youth eligible for work, who have no jobs. This is a shockingly high youth unemployment rate which has been worsened as companies continue to downsize their operations as the pandemic bites.

As Covid-19 development statistics trickle in every day, one has to wonder where coronavirus will push the swelling youth unemployment.

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The pandemic has pushed young people to the edges of the economy. With a majority of them having been laid off their peanut paying seasonal jobs, the dependency effect sets in, and with their little savings depleted, the cycle of hopeless continues.

If the situation is not intervened urgently, the aftermath will be double trouble.

Earlier this week, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a UN agency, warned that the pandemic posed “the most severe crisis” since World War II. Last month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned that the global economy would take years to recover.

Indeed, Covid-19 has had an adverse effect on the many lives of most vulnerable youth – they are reporting increased stress, anxiety and depression.

Coronavirus has negatively impacted business of young entrepreneurs – slowed down their businesses or stopped entirely. Some have experienced reduced customer demand, supply chain and distribution disruptions.

There are concerns about the effect of coronavirus on the employment prospects of young people. Youth unemployment in the wake of Covid-19 is a major concern and governments must develop robust strategies to tackle– to address effect of Covid-19 on youth employment.

Already, some studies suggest that younger workers are most at risk from being unable to earn a living as normal during the lockdown. This is because they are disproportionately likely to be working in the economic sectors which have been most profoundly affected by the lockdown. Such include leisure and hospitality, or the creative industries.

Sports, film and television which have created jobs for young people and contributed tremendous revenue to governments, have not been spared by the pandemic recession.

In the agricultural sector, many young people who had ventured in agribusiness have encountered immense losses and are under tremendous pressure.

To process crops, farmers need to transport crops to processing centers, which are closed, as are the markets where they obtain agricultural inputs or sell farm products.

The risk is not only that immediate rural production, food deliveries, employment and incomes will collapse, but also that planting for next seasons crops have been disrupted.

It is evident that Covid-19 will have long lasting economic consequences, especially on young people many who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Kenya needs to take urgent and robust measures to help young people navigate the crisis. Some of the interventions required include tax exemptions, affordable loans, rent and utility reliefs and social protection. Other important interventions include emergency relief and stimulus, and support for businesses to transition to e-commerce platforms.

This article was first published on Business Daily Africa

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