The Tick­ing Time Bomb of Asian and Arab Youth Growth

Trillions - - In This Issue -

Asia, the Pa­cific and the 22 Arab coun­tries cur­rently have 700 mil­lion youth aged 15 to 24 years old. That is 60% of the world’s youth.

Of that num­ber, 300 mil­lion come from the Arab coun­tries and 400 mil­lion are from Asia and the Pa­cific.

This youth pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow. Asia’s pop­u­la­tion growth rate is es­ti­mated at around 1% per year, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral pro­jec­tions. Fif­teen years ago, when this group of youth en­tered the work­force, the num­bers were ap­prox­i­mately 1.24% per year. That means one can ex­pect that an­other 1.24%, or an­other nine mil­lion new 15-year-olds, will en­ter this group in the com­ing year.

Their fu­ture is un­cer­tain for many rea­sons.

One big rea­son is ac­cess to jobs. In a 2015 sur­vey, some 40 mil­lion in this group, ap­prox­i­mately 12%, were un­em­ployed.

Even in South Korea, one of the more suc­cess­ful eco­nomic “en­gines” in the re­gion, the job­less rate for Kore­ans aged 15 to 24 was at 11.2% as of April 2017. This is a jump of 2.5% just since De­cem­ber, when the num­ber was 8.7%.

In Asia in gen­eral, an es­ti­mated 12% of the pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated to be un­em­ployed over­all.

In the Mid­dle East, un­em­ploy­ment is even higher. The lat­est Arab Youth Sur­vey 2017 puts un­em­ploy­ment at 30% for the same youth age group. Out of the 300 mil­lion youth num­ber men­tioned above, that means 90 mil­lion youth are un­em­ployed in that re­gion. In places where war is preva­lent, such as Ye­men, youth un­em­ploy­ment is es­ti­mated now to be at 55%.

These per­cent­ages do not show two other alarm­ing fig­ures. One is that youth through­out the re­gion are over four times as likely as their par­ents to be un­em­ployed. A se­cond is that women through­out the re­gion in gen­eral are far less likely to be em­ployed pe­riod, at a rate of only 13.5% of those in­volved in the econ­omy. That com­pares to 50% of male youth num­bers. These gen­der gaps have also been his­tor­i­cally in­creas­ing in South Asia over the past 10 years.

With such un­em­ploy­ment so ram­pant and grow­ing, the long-term needs of the coun­tries to find ways to em­ploy and feed their people are grow­ing at an equally fast rate. That is be­hind a spe­cial con­fer­ence to be held in Am­man, Jor­dan, in July 2017 on the sub­ject “From Youth Bulge to De­mo­graphic Div­i­dend: To­ward Re­gional De­vel­op­ment and Achieve­ment of the SDGS.” This meet­ing, the Asian and Arab Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans Meet­ing and Study Visit on Pop­u­la­tion and De­vel­op­ment, is or­ga­nized by the Asian Pop­u­la­tion and De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (APDA) and the Sec­re­tar­iat of the Ja­pan Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans Fed­er­a­tion for Pop­u­la­tion (JPFP) and will be held from July 18-20.

Many is­sues for the re­gion are to be dis­cussed at this meet­ing, in­clud­ing how to han­dle eco­nomic growth in the face of such sup­port de­mands from a grow­ing un­em­ployed group.

In the Mid­dle East, dam­aged by long-term war and now un­der the in­flu­ence of new chal­lenges such as the slow de­cline of the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try and how to cope with cli­mate change, the prob­lems seem in­sur­mount­able to many. In other re­gions such as In­dia, whose econ­omy is boom­ing but whose de­mands for the elec­tri­cal power that drives it are cre­at­ing pol­lu­tion of his­toric pro­por­tions, the mix of prob­lems are dif­fer­ent but the dif­fi­cul­ties for gover­nance are no less se­vere. In China, a slow­ing but sta­bi­liz­ing eco­nomic force that will con­tinue to be one of the most pow­er­ful – if not the most pow­er­ful – in the world, the pres-

sures of how to keep its peo­ples em­ployed, along with pol­lu­tion man­age­ment and food se­cu­rity, are equally dif­fi­cult to man­age. China, with far less arable land for agri­cul­ture on a per capita ba­sis than other large economies, is also hav­ing to come up with far more cre­ative so­lu­tions to keep its pop­u­la­tion prop­erly fed.

For all these re­gions, one of the other rarely stated pub­licly but still wor­ry­ing con­cerns be­hind closed doors is whether the pres­ence of so many un­em­ployed youth will cre­ate dif­fer­ent kinds of abuses. One such abuse is the re­birth of sweat­shop-like fac­to­ries with in­di­vid­u­als work­ing at lower and lower wages than ever sim­ply be­cause there are so many youth com­pet­ing for the same jobs. A se­cond is the po­ten­tial that many in these ranks may look to the grow­ing in­sur­gent and ter­ror­ist ranks to find work of any kind. With the rise of Is­lamic ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions such as ISIS and the ap­pear­ance of their grow­ing power on the world stage, this is a very dan­ger­ous trend that must be ad­dressed di­rectly. Pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tions of sim­i­lar things on the African con­ti­nent, where youth are ac­tively re­cruited to be a part of armed ter­ror­ist groups in sev­eral coun­tries, show this is a real prob­lem that must be ad­dressed.

There is also the con­cern that just liv­ing with­out jobs or food for long times will also cre­ate ma­jor psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems for those in­volved. The large num­bers of youth af­fected by this are al­ready show­ing signs of such strains. Long term, the im­pact of this men­tal in­sta­bil­ity on the re­gion could turn into po­lit­i­cal chaos.

In the Philip­pines, for ex­am­ple, where mar­tial law was de­clared not long ago in the south­ern prov­ince of Min­danao, a once un­sta­ble but only sim­mer­ing con­flict be­tween the govern­ment and the lo­cal Is­lamic in­sur­gents and mem­bers of the Com­mu­nist Party there has re­cently ex­ploded into a re­gional war. That alone has caused ma­jor dam­age to for­eign di­rect in­vest­ments in the coun­try, tourism and the Philip­pine bud­get. If that war spreads be­yond the bor­ders of that prov­ince and into the coun­try as a whole, the po­ten­tial dam­age to it could take decades to un­ravel.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions look­ing to in­vest in start-ups and cre­ate start-up in­fra­struc­ture have also been com­ing to the re­gion to find other kinds of so­lu­tions. Aid or­ga­ni­za­tions world­wide have also wo­ken up to the task, but far more needs to be done than just pro­vide food and in­fra­struc­ture to the af­fected re­gions. In some cases, an en­tirely new way of life may have to be cre­ated to find a way out of the un­em­ploy­ment mess for the young.

The con­fer­ence com­ing up in Am­man, Jor­dan, on July 18-20 def­i­nitely al­ready has its work cut out for it.

Photo by Pre­ston Rhea, CC

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