Unemployment has been a major challenge for the youth in Kenya for quite some time but what is more worrying now is the increasing number of youth who have jobs but continue to struggle to make ends meet and the situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has deepened existing inequalities, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable communities the hardest
A 2016 report by The International Labour Organisation ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook 2016, Trends for Youth, raised this concern on the growing number of young people (working poor) in developing countries who live in moderate to extreme poverty despite having a job.
“Of concern is the share and number of young people, often in emerging and developing countries, who live in extreme or moderate poverty despite having a job. In fact, 156 million or 37.7 per cent of working youth are in extreme or moderate poverty (compared to 26 per cent of working adults),” the report noted.
The ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook 2016 report called on stakeholders to double efforts to achieve economic growth and decent work if countries are to reach the global goal to end poverty.
“The alarming rise in youth unemployment and the equally disturbing high levels of young people who work but still live in poverty show how difficult it will be to reach the global goal to end poverty by 2030 unless we redouble our efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth and decent work”.
Youth Working Poverty Rates Highest In Sub- Saharan Africa
Sub- Saharan Africa has the highest youth working poverty rates globally (almost 70 per cent), according to the International Labour Organisation. Working poverty rates among young people are also elevated in Arab States (39 percent) and Southern Asia (49 per cent).
Social And Economic Disruption Of The Pandemic Falling More On Young People
The covid-19 pandemic has deepened existing inequalities, further ballooning the number of working poor youth in Kenya as well as the unemployed and considering that 85% of the country’s population comprises of youth under the age of 35, urgent intervention is required if Kenya is to reap from the Demographic Dividend.
When the first cases of Corona Virus outbreak were reported in Kenya in March last year and the COVID-19 restrictions enforced, there were numerous job losses and salary cuts that have affected youth in the country. Youth working in Aviation, Media, hospitality, and even NGOs were mostly hit.
To date, there are still dozens of youth who are contending with salary cuts of up to 50 % as businesses struggle to stay afloat. Sadly, as Sharon Njeri shares; “Bills still have to be paid”.
Njeri, a 31-year-old Nairobi youth working as a receptionist in one of the prime business hubs in the Central Business District (CBD) had just resumed work after 3-month maternity leave when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Five of her colleagues permanently lost their jobs as their contracts were not renewed while the rest who like her who were still lucky to have a job, were put on a 50 % salary cut, which has lingered on from an initial 3 month period to now a year.
“At first we understood the situation and especially since it had been communicated that it would only be effective for 3 months. It’s now a year later, our business premises are still full of tenants but our employer still maintains that “business is bad”, ” Njeri says.
Njeri, who revealed that she earns a Sh 30,000 salary before tax, confesses that if it wasn’t for the fact that her husband pays rent and their landlord was kind enough to reduce their rent by sh 3000, she would perhaps have ended up moving in a slum in order to survive.
“The 30k Salary was barely enough on a normal day, but now that it’s even half, it gets to payday and I instantly get a headache. I now understand why women stay in abusive marriages because the man holds the bigger financial muscle.”.
For Brian, being the sole breadwinner for his young family of four, losing his job as a part-time lecturer in a top media college in the city was a major blow. His side hustles of photography for events were also rendered useless by the ban of gatherings. His small savings could only last the family for 3 months before he realized things were getting harder and he had to make the tough choice of sending his wife and their two children to the village.
“The closure of schools was a blessing in disguise for us. At least my wife could stay home with the kids and we did not have to worry about school fees and rent. I moved in with a cousin for some time as I kept chasing hustles and the little I got I would send the family back in the village. I’m just grateful that I had put up a house in the village because it gave us a soft landing”
Brian’s family is back in the city but the children had to move to public schools and they also had to rent a smaller house.
Nairobi Youth Facing Critical Impacts on Livelihoods following COVID-19 Pandemic
A report released last year by the Un Women indicated that the covid-19 pandemic has had a gendered impact on livelihoods.
The majority of youth (94% of women and 95% of men) experienced disruption to their formal employment or informal income generation (such as street vending), with over half (54%) of women reporting an increase in financial reliance on others since COVID-19 restrictions began, compared to 36% of men.
SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth