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EDITORIAL: It’s no secret that unemployment and under-employment are among Pakistan’s biggest problems, as in most under-developed countries, yet a recent report released by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) reveals a shocking breakdown of the situation, especially among the youth. It turns out that 31 percent of the country’s youth is currently unemployed. And among them 51 percent are females and 16 percent are males; many of them in possession of professional degrees.

And since nearly 60 percent of Pakistan’s population is below 30 years of age, making it one of the ‘youngest countries’ in the world, the fact that a big bulk of its youth is not working, and therefore not earning enough, turns what should have become a demographic dividend into an outright demographic disaster. Countries like ours know best, after all, that the one thing unemployed, frustrated youth is good for is social and political instability.

The report also says that unemployment is highest among new entrants into the labour force, and that it can take up to 10 years, even more, for young people to find employment, which is very surprising. But what is not surprising is that the stats are worse for rural areas than urban areas and worst for females all over the country. A very large part of the working-age group is also not part of the labour force at all because there just aren’t enough jobs in the market.

How then can the youth — by far the largest chunk of the population — be expected to build families, provide for them, educate their children, and also contribute to the economy and country when they are cast out of the race right at the beginning for no fault of their own?

Little surprise, then, that government jobs remain the most sought after. They provide steady, assured income which in most cases is better than the private sector. But that also drives the best minds away from important and innovative fields which are driving the global economy forward in this day and age, leaving the country as a whole the poorer for it at the end of the day. Let’s not forget that employment is not the only indicator where Pakistan does badly.

Very many of the children that go onto form the youth bulge are born stunted, malnourished, and suffer from a number of completely needless illnesses just because of the overall economic situation of the country.

These are uncertain times for the whole world but more so for poor countries like Pakistan that need aid, debt and loans to survive. For more than half the country to be medically, financially and professionally unfit means there should be little to celebrate about our immediate economic future. And since we also suffer from a lot of crime and terrorism, and economic insecurity of the youth feeds directly into both things, the government really has its work cut out for it.

There are no easy solutions, of course, but there is broad agreement that the best chance of turning the demographic disaster back into a demographic dividend is intervention aimed at teaching vocational skills to young people and making them job-ready.

That is why it is particularly unfortunate that we haven’t yet embarked on this path or even identified it as the right one for our needs. Pakistan clearly needs to take better care of its youth otherwise the population time bomb that has been ticking for decades will finally explode with uncontrollable consequences. And the time to act is now. Reports like PIDE’s, which identify key failures of the system, need to be taken seriously enough to begin looking for answers, at the very least.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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