Generation Ni/Ni: Latin America’s Lost Youth JOSÉ MANUEL SALAZAR-XIRINACHS
of 15 and 24. According to
International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates for
2011, youth represent 23. 5
percent of the world’s total
working poor population. 1
This generation has a
powerful impact on the
larger society. Joblessness,
social deprivation and lack
of involvement in the community contribute to rising
violent crime and fraying
social cohesion. In Latin
America and the Caribbean,
the presence of a growing
population of socially excluded youth threatens to
undermine the achievements of the past decade in reducing poverty and inequality and improving education outcomes, particularly
in countries like Peru, Colombia and Brazil.
In recent years, young people have come to constitute a new societal fault line in the region, many left
behind in the decade of economic growth and opportunity. They are the latest victims of the region’s long
history of discrimination and exclusion.
Consider the following.
The estimated youth population ( 15 to 24 years) in
Latin America and the Caribbean is 106 million. This is
18 percent of the region’s total population and the number is growing fast. The region will have the largest number of young people in its history by 2020.2
About 53 percent of the total youth population work
and around 15 percent are unemployed.
Only one-third of the total youth population are full-time students; another third work full time. And nearly
one in five young adults in the region is neither working nor studying—nearly 20 million young people, the
now famous ni/nis (ni estudian, ni trabajan).
Opportunities for stable incomes and for joining the
middle class are scarce even for the 50 million young
adults who do work, since 60 percent of young workers
have informal jobs with low productivity, low income
and precarious working conditions. 3
Youth violence and crime are strongly correlated to
joblessness and nonattendance at school. Almost 80
percent of common street crimes in Latin America are
committed by individuals between 12 and 25 years old.
Young people are also the
biggest victims of violence.
A variety of factors exacerbate the vulnerability
of youth in labor markets.
Barriers to employment
for young people include
structural issues such
as low overall economic
growth, low private-sector
entrepreneurship, and inadequate trade dynamism.
Demand for young workers
is also affected by regulations and employment protection rules that reduce
There are also barriers
to labor market entry specific to young people, such as
the lack of previous job experience, which limits access
to first jobs and thus work experience. The dilemma increases during economic downturns because youth are
often the last hired and the first fired. Firms dismiss
young workers first because they have fewer skills, less
training and less talent than adult workers who have
been with the company more years and in whom the
company has already made an important investment
What’s more, a 2007 ILO study looking at informality
among young workers in the region found that, among
young salaried workers, only 24 percent had a permanent contract, 13 percent had a temporary contract and
63 percent worked without any written contract. 4 Temporary contracts make it easier for firms to hire and fire
youth, but temporary contracts can also become a permanent trap rather than a stepping stone into more permanent and better paid jobs.
Below are some of the most important barriers and
gaps. Fortunately, many can be overcome through coordinated public policy and private-sector actions.
REQUIRES NOT ONLY
Young people with poor education need help learn- ing how to get and keep a job. According to the Youth Employment Inventory—a database of information on youth employment programs supported
by the German government, the Youth Employment
Network and multilateral donors—mismatches in non-
110 Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012