Analysis: How COVID-19 Is Likely to Slow Down a Decade of Youth Development in Africa
Until COVID-19 hit, the quality of life of youth (age 15-24) in sub-Saharan Africa had been steadily improving. According to the World Bank, by 2019 the youth literacy rate stood at 73%. Gross secondary school enrollment rates increased from 13 % in 1971 to 43 % by 2018. Youth unemployment rates have remained fairly stable, at around 9%, even below the world average of 13.6%.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty among young workers declined from 60% in 1999 to 42% in 2019. Moreover, the youth literacy gender parity index, measuring the ratio of females to males ages 15-24 who can both read and write, has improved significantly, reaching 93% in 2019. And for this first time, the unemployment rate of young women are similar to that of young men (9.4%).
As an economist interested in entrepreneurship and technological innovation, I recently contributed to UN’s 2020 World Youth Report. In particular, chapter 4 of the report concerns how the youth can leverage new digital technologies for social entrepreneurship to advance sustainable development. Though written before the COVID-19 pandemic, the message may have become even more urgent. This, because COVID-19 may slow down or even reverse the positive trends in youth development noted.
Photo courtesy of Arne Hoel / World Bank.