OPINION: Increased youth unemployment during COVID-19 pandemic must be addressed

By Doris Kathia

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim more lives in Kenya and all over the world. In addition, the Government measures against the pandemic have far reaching effects on Kenyans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 affects different populations differently. It does not only highlight but also widen existing inequalities. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on unemployment in every county, industry, and major demographic in Kenya.

Young workers, women, workers with low educational attainment, part-time workers, and racial and ethnic minorities had relatively high unemployment rates during the first wave and first country lockdown.

The youth form the largest part of Kenya’s population and they have been highly affected by job losses following the onset of COVID-19.

The highest proportion of the unemployed has remained between ages 20 and 24 and 25 and 29 with respective unemployment rates of 22.8 and 21.7 per cent. according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

Many of those who are employed work in the informal economy and on precarious contracts or in-service sectors of the economy.

COVID-19 pandemic is a major blow to jobseekers, especially the close to one million young people who graduate from various educational institutions every year.

According to the quarterly Labor Force Survey nearly 4.64 million people were jobless at the end of June 2020, with young people being the hardest-hit compared to their counterparts aged above 35 years in an economic setting that is plagued by a hiring freeze on the back of sluggish corporate earnings.

About 1.72 million workers lost jobs in three months to June when Kenya imposed coronavirus-induced lockdown that led to layoffs and pay cuts.

Data from KNBS shows the number of people in employment fell to 15.87 million between April and end of June 2020 compared to 17.59 million the previous quarter.

The impact of COVID-19 in Kenya has stretched beyond the sphere of healthcare and the spread of the actual virus, as economic development outcomes are expected to be seriously affected by the disruption caused both globally and locally.

Ministry of Health protocols such as stay-at-home and social distancing directives have had a huge impact on the Kenyan youth as they feel trapped with people who they are often desperate to escape from. This is happening to most youth across the globe.

The increased cases of depression among the artists and other youths who are unemployed are aggravated by restricted stay at home policy.

Youth feel more lonely and isolated, have no safe space since they cannot access their meetings, face more challenging relationships with their family as they stay at home, lack a trusted person to turn to and face increased social media or online pressure.

The informal sector which makes up close to 80percent of Kenya’s employment is indeed the most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. These individuals live on a day-to-day basis and are primarily in low-end services.

Government’s responses to the pandemic have resulted in shocks to the supply chain further up the ladder. The subsequent economic crisis is being experienced by the poorest in the society, most of whom are in the informal sector.

Should the response not be cognizant of the realities of the informal sector, civil unrest and violence could break out leading to further disruption of economic activities and downgrading of growth projections.

With the high rate of unemployment among youths in Kenya, rates of crime; corruption; high dependency on alcohol and drug abuse have increased.

During the first lockdown in Kenya in 2020, the government released Ksh. 100million stimulus packages for artists and Ksh. 10billion was dedicated to the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable members of the society.

However, this response was more focused on the aftermath of the pandemic rather than dealing with the current situation people find themselves in.

Private sector firms continue to shed jobs and opportunities for work are dwindling by the day.

The impact of COVID-19 on unemployment is not gender neutral and recovery efforts should include targeted action to bring more youth and women back into the workforce.

Response to youth employment during and after COVID-19 will require an agenda of resilience and recovery, but also one of innovation.

There is need to monitor youth unemployment and underemployment during this particular time. Also, targeted measures to promote youth employment and decent work should be implemented.

Since youth unemployment in a COVID-19 world is a huge challenge, it requires the various players across the development sector to work together innovate and be flexible in their proposed solutions and more so involve youths to be able to come up with the actual solutions geared towards the youths. In addition, new programs should be implemented within the existing government framework for social protection programs.

Doris Kathia is a youth advocate at the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa (NAYA Kenya)

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