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April 13, 2016
The region of Latin America is blessed with a large, young population; however if it is not acted upon by those in power, this blessing could become one of the continent’s biggest problems. Latin America has recently witnessed a reduction in the child population and a reduction of the number of people in the older demographic. This has produced a large working population between the ages of 15 and 59, who are able to earn a living, save and invest. The rise of the working population in Latin America has in part led to the reduction of poverty and rise of the middle class in recent years.
A hot topic in Latin America is how best to utilise this young population as if this issue is not addressed by government quickly, the youth of today will become the aging population of tomorrow. The problem is even more urgent as on average, by the age of 20, almost 30% of young women in Latin America and the Caribbean are already mothers. On top of this, it is estimated that 1 in 5 of the 32 million young people in Latin America and the Caribbean are classified as, ‘NEET’ meaning not in employment, education or training.
The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) predict that after 2020, the relationship between active and inactive people in Latin America will soon become unbalanced, meaning that there will be a majority of the population who are aging and unemployed . Those who are able to work will be faced with higher costs due to the rise in the aging population causing, greater strain on the welfare system and health services. The problem is not uniform across the whole region with countries such as Cuba and Chile having to react more urgently to the issue than others such as, Bolivia and Guatemala. One solution, offered by ECLAC, is to improve the productivity of those able to work, and in order to achieve this, the government need to invest in education and promote decent employment.
One of the largest problems that Latin America faces is teenage pregnancy which is an issue that has been directly linked to poverty. According to the World Health Organisation, on average about 20% of births in the region are by mothers aged under-20. Although contraception and sex education are widespread throughout the region, the main cause of such a high teenage pregnancy rate is as a result of these unintended pregnancies. This has a direct affect on education in the region with only 50% of school students graduating and over 50% of those that complete their studies, still lacking basic skills required for work, according to the 2012 report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Although the above are explanations for the population that neither work nor are in education, the main reason is due to the fact that formal education is not giving young people the skills or knowledge they need for jobs in today’s market. Moreover, access to both formal and informal education is often limited in the region and the quality of which is often called into question. The job search process in Latin America is influenced by the the societal class the person comes from, as job searches are mainly based on the use of informal and personal contacts. The education system therefore needs to change in order to try and retain young people to complete their training and to provide them with the skills they need in order to work.
In front of Latin America lies a golden opportunity which can only be achieved through the promotion and investment in the youth. With the majority of Latin America countries relying on raw materials to support their economies, it is vital that these funds are filtered down in the form of investment within the region’s youth. The governments also need to try and promote youth empowerment, by providing attractive financial schemes or opening up access to credit in order to help young people start their own businesses. Latin America’s future lies in the hands of the youth, who will decide the future prosperity and strength of the region in the world’s economy and market. It is therefore vital that young Latin Americans receive the support of those in power in order to achieve this success and build a better, brighter future for Latin America.