Developing countries which invest in better education, healthcare, and job training for their record numbers of young people between the ages of 12 and 24 years of age, could produce surging economic growth and sharply reduced poverty, according to a new World Bank report launched at the Bank's Annual Meetings in Singapore.
With 1.3 billion young people now living in the developing world-the largest-ever youth group in history-the report says there has never been a better time to invest in youth because they are healthier and better educated than previous generations, and they will join the workforce with fewer dependents because of changing demographics.
However, failure to seize this opportunity to train them more effectively for the workplace, and to be active citizens, could lead to widespread disillusionment and social tensions.
"Such large numbers of young people living in developing countries present great opportunities, but also risks," says François Bourguignon, the World Bank's Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for Development Economics.
"The opportunities are great, as many countries will have a larger, more skilled labor force and fewer dependents. But these young people must be well-prepared in order to create and find good jobs."
The report says that young people make up nearly half of the ranks of the world's unemployed, and, for example, that the Middle East and North Africa region alone must create 100 million jobs by 2020 in order to stabilize its employment situation. Moreover, surveys of young people in East Asia and Eastern Europe and Central Asia-carried out as research for the report-indicate that access to jobs, along with physical security, is their biggest concern.
Far too many young people--some 130 million 15-24 year olds--cannot read or write. Secondary education and skill acquisition make sense only if primary schooling has been successful. This is still far from being the case and efforts have to be reinforced in this area. In addition, more than 20 percent of firms in countries such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Estonia, and Zambia, rate poor education and work skills among their workforce as 'a major or severe obstacle to their operations.' Overcoming this handicap starts with more and better investments in youth.
"Most developing countries have a short window of opportunity to get this right before their record numbers of youth become middle-aged, and they lose their demographic dividend. This isn't just enlightened social policy. This may be one of the profound decisions a developing country will ever make to banish poverty and galvanize its economy," says Emmanuel Jimenez, lead author of the report, and Director of Human Development in the World Bank's East Asia and the Pacific Department.
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