FY2022 budget should take an intergenerational perspective
The pandemic has pointed out the need for placing the youth issues at the centre stage of policy discourse. Many employed young people have lost their jobs as the economy continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus. A large section of the youth is also waiting to enter the job market as they had finished their education or training just before the outbreak of the pandemic. Yet, many others are stuck in the "education lockdown" as they wait for their classes to resume and degrees to qualify for job application. Bedsides, those who are self-employed in small entrepreneurship, lost their income as businesses have been interrupted. A number of surveys in recent times have indicated increased unemployment during the pandemic. This is apprehended to have created multiple socio-economic challenges for them.
Even during the pre-pandemic period, the opportunity of harnessing the youth potential through education, skills and access to finance was inadequate. The high economic growth was not accompanied with enough jobs for the youth who enter the job market. The spread of the coronavirus has impacted the efforts toward economic recovery. This has in turn affected the labour market. Every year, two million youth enter the job market in Bangladesh. However, job creation for the youth lags behind compared to the pace of economic growth. Also, opportunities for those who want to be self-employed are insufficient.
According to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2016-17 of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the share of unemployed youth is 10.6 percent, though the national unemployment rate is 4.2 percent. The Eighth Five Year Plan of Bangladesh aims at reducing this to 5 percent by 2025 and to 2 percent by 2031. Similarly, the target for the youth who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) is also high. NEET is currently 29.8 percent as per the LFS 2016-17. This is planned to be reduced to 15 percent by 2025 and to 5 percent by 2031. These are impressive targets in Bangladesh's socio-economic context. The National Youth Policy 2017 also emphasised the need for youth development and their empowerment through employment generation. The policy views that this is important for establishing equality, human dignity and social justice. The recognition of the issue and the planned measures are a welcome move on the part of the policymakers.
Though the government spells out the objective on increasing job opportunities for the youth in its policy document, the progress on more jobs for the youth has been slow. In view of the pandemic this will be much tougher than before as the youth have already lost over a year of their lives. And it is still uncertain when the situation will improve. Given the magnitude of the problem, the issue should be addressed more seriously. However, it is not only about creating job opportunities, but also recovering various tangible and intangible losses that they suffered during the pandemic.
The valuable time which has been lost from the young lives is irreparable in many ways. Educational institutions have been closed for physical classes for over a year since March 2020. Only an insignificant number of institutions are providing online education. The quality of those lessons has been rather low. The vocational training and skills development centres are also closed for in-person sessions. All these may have an impact on the lifelong earnings of many youth as the loss has been on many fronts. These include learning loss, experience loss, employment loss, and disruption of social and professional networks. This has taken a toll on their mental health too as they are experiencing isolation and anxiety in this difficult time.
Young women are facing greater challenges in Bangladesh during the pandemic, like all other countries. In Bangladesh, over 91 percent employed women are engaged in the informal sector. So, they are the first ones to lose their jobs in times of crisis. At home they are overburdened with unpaid care work. They are also facing higher gender-based violence. Most studies during the pandemic reveal these facts. And it is feared that some of the gender-related achievements over several years may be reversed due to the impacts of the pandemic. Female participation in the labour market has been steadily increasing over the years which has reached 36 percent now. The objective is to gain equal participation in the labour market. So, young women's dropout from the labour market due to the pandemic will affect gender equality in the workplace.
Addressing the challenges of the youth in the above context will require a multi-pronged approach. One of the means to implement these approaches is higher resources for youth development. Taking the multidimensional problems of the youth, the budget for FY2022 should take an intergenerational perspective. The first budget FY2021 after the eruption of the pandemic could not address these challenges. Resource allocation for youth-centric programmes has been meagre and lacked the broader approach in addressing the issue. The upcoming budget for FY2022 should allocate adequate resources, not only for the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS), but also for other ministries which are connected to youth related matters. A few suggestions are reiterated here.
First, the allocation for the MoYS should be increased. Though budget allocation for the ministry has increased over time, a large amount is allocated for non-development expenditure. Development expenditure as a share of total expenditure for the ministry is not significant. This trend has to be reversed.
Second, the government should invest more on education and training. Therefore, budgetary allocation for the education sector should break the cycle of about 2 percent of the gross domestic production. Since we are not in a position to think about introducing programmes such as youth job guarantee schemes in view of our resource constraint, the youth should receive appropriate education and training to enter the job market.
Third, the youth should have access to finance for starting their own businesses. Everyone cannot get a job. Many also do not want to do an office job. Increasingly, young people are getting interested in entrepreneurship. They are also increasingly being engaged in e-commerce. Therefore, not only should there be more funds for them, but the procedure to receive such funds should be made easy. Information on such opportunities should also reach the youth beyond the large cities.
Fourth, during the pandemic digitalisation has accelerated. A significant amount of economic activities is being performed through technology. This practice will continue to expand in the coming days. Therefore, higher investment is required for skills developments and training of young people. Without upskilling and re-skilling, the digital divide which has been prominent during the pandemic will become far more prominent and enhance inequality.
Fifth, mental health crisis due to the pandemic should be addressed through investment on mental healthcare. In our country mental health is ignored both at family and national levels without realising its long-term impact on society. The budget needs to allocate resources for solutions targeting this problem.
The young population are the drivers of the economy. They are the most energetic and productive group of the society. The country can benefit from the demographic dividend since about 20 percent of its population is in the range of 15-24 years. But due to lack of opportunity they can become a burden for the country. Economic recovery from the pandemic will not be possible without addressing the challenges of the young people. Policies and measures taken for the youth today will have implications for generations to come.
Dr Fahmida Khatun is the Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of her organisation.