Shrinking economic spaces for youth

Published: May 25, 2019
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The writer is a youth development expert with over 12 years of experience in the social development sector.

The writer is a youth development expert with over 12 years of experience in the social development sector.

The youth makes up the largest segment of Pakistan’s population. Approximately 30% of the total population is between the ages of 15 and 29 while 64% is below 30, making Pakistan the second youngest country in the South Asian region after Afghanistan, according to a United Nations report.

As per estimates, the country’s youth makes approximately 42% of the labour force with around 4 million attaining the working age every year. In order to keep up, Pakistan needs to create one million employment opportunities every year. However, how, what, where and when this will happen is the real question. Is a slogan during a political campaign enough to deal with this burgeoning situation at hand? What could be the options and what is the framework already in place to resolve this?

With the PTI and its allies almost completing its first year in government, everybody is screaming about high inflation rate at 8.8%, devaluation of the rupee by 30%, rise in the interest rate to 12.25%, fall of GDP growth rate to an estimated 3.4% as well as a severe price hike that is adversely impacting the common man.

Save for a small percentage of the population comprising influential and well-off people, the gloomy figures mentioned above have implications almost for all – like members of the lower- and middle-income groups; manufacturers, small-scale businessmen, new entrants to the job market, daily wagers, labourers  and so on.

With the growth rate falling, the four million youths just entering the working age after completing higher education are finding it difficult to make a living whether by getting a job or making small-scale investment so as to feed themselves and their families.

For an individual willing to start a business good enough to employ six to eight people, the prevailing environment is not favourable at all as the small-scale industry is already finding it difficult to survive. The small-scale industry can only be supported by a viable large-scale industry which is already hit with high interest rate, devaluing rupee, rising petrol prices, and extremely high power and gas tariffs, among other distractions. Confusion over the government’s economic policies is also discouraging the business community which is forced to consider pulling their investments out of the market. Hence as an immediate trickledown effect, those willing to enter small-scale businesses have no good prospects.

As for the existing job market, there is shrinkage almost across the board, like in the media, the automobile industry, pharmaceuticals and small manufacturing. Even street vendors and daily wagers have taken quite a hit. The trend prevailing in the job market these days features downsizing of the workforce as well as reduced working hours for labourers and daily-wage earners.

A prospering growth rate and an under-control inflation rate – combined with a special package of taxation and lower interest rate to facilitate middle- and lower-middle income groups – are the essentials for creating economic opportunities.

Stable economic policies must help encourage the youth to look for opportunities in their own country instead of attempting to illegally cross borders in their bid to reach Europe and other parts of the world at the cost of their lives. Many others out of work run the risk of ending up in the hands of criminals and terrorists or finding refuge in drugs.

The government must not allow the hope of change that it had given, to this country’s youth in particular, to shatter. Youth is the most potential period of the human life span, and in order to make the most of it, there is need to focus on creating economic opportunities.

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