It is now evident the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic will leave behind severe and long lasting economic and social impact, especially among the youth.
While Covid-19 is disproportionately harsh on older people, young people, perhaps more than any other demographic, face the greatest threat from the pandemic.
A study by Amref Health Africa revealed that half of Kenyan youth have experienced a significant reduction in income, while 22.9 per cent lost their source of livelihood in a country where 75 per cent of the population is aged below 35 as per the 2019 population census.
To be young and low-skilled is one of the highest risk combinations today. Young people tend to work in the informal economy or in retail and service industries that have been severely affected.
In addition to the loss of income, the containment measures put in place by the government to combat Covid-19 are highly disruptive to the economy. The decline of public and sporting events and travelling have meant loss of opportunities and business profitability, leaving millions of young people with no reliable source of income. This can be devastating in a country where majority of the workforce are in the informal sector and gig economy.
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A Covid-19 induced rise in youth unemployment presents a clear and present danger and can only mean a slower economic recovery. It calls for targeted policy interventions without which the youth will be disproportionately affected by the emerging global recession.
The full extent of the effects of Covid-19 are not yet clear, but will largely depend on the duration and magnitude of the pandemic, and the quality of interventions at the national and global level. The government must embark on a recovery strategy that involves young people and delivers continuous job growth and opportunities.
It’s instructive to note that young people are not covered in the current family-based cash transfers or employment based social protection programmes. The initial stimulus measures were largely criticised for focusing on people in formal employment and leaving out the majority who are in the informal sector.
The Eight-point Economic Stimulus Sh53.7 billion programme targeting infrastructure, education, SMEs, health, agriculture, tourism, environment and manufacturing, and the Sh10 billion Kazi Mtaani Initiative are steps in the right direction. However, more must to be done to deal with the unforgiving effects of Covid-19.
The government needs to tap into the creativity, resourcefulness and energy of the youth to lead the Covid-19 response in their communities. With proper support and motivation, more youth can be mobilised to develop solutions that will save the future. As the demand for locally manufactured items rises, it is time to support the manufacturing capacity of young people by giving them access to affordable credit, skills training, removing entry barriers, scrapping unreasonable levies and licences and offering a ready local market for local inventions.
The growing surge in online services and expansion of the digital economy calls for more investments and infrastructure. Affordable access to digital tools, and equipping youth with skills and providing resources to help them generate income from the growing platforms and gig economies is a priority.
This crisis could have been all we needed to position ourselves for the future. It is the time to truly foster the youth agenda.
- Muchira is a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). ([email protected]). Kamau is a media and communications scholar at the Aga Khan University. ([email protected])