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Youth experiences of the decent work deficit

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Coombe, Rachel 
Proefke, Rachel 


The global population is extraordinarily youthful. This creates great opportunities, and significant challenges. While an estimated 1 billion young people will enter the labour market between 2015 and 2025, only 40% are likely to find jobs under present conditions. Ensuring decent work for all is of pressing importance, so much so that it forms a major part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8, set to be achieved by 2030. It is an immense challenge to secure decent work for all within the next decade, given that at present much of the work available to young people is poorly paid, dangerous, insecure, or in short supply. Drawing from a survey of young people in lower and middle income countries, we offer insight into young people’s lived experiences of what the International Labour Organisation calls the ‘decent work deficit’. We document the struggle of getting by on low wages, and the resulting tendency towards multiple overlapping forms of ‘portfolio’ employment. We report insufficient demand for young people’s labour and the insecurity of the work that is available. Furthermore, we share young people’s reports of having too little money to start their education or business ventures, and their lack of connections to people who could help them secure work. This article offers insights into young people’s lived experiences of the decent work deficit, complementing a wealth of international statistical data. We highlight the rich insights offered by young people who are struggling to make a life for themselves and their families; these are some of the lived realities of insufficient decent work. We argue that young people’s accounts of their working lives are critical to designing effective interventions to deliver decent work for all.



4406 Human Geography, 44 Human Society, 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth

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This work was funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund Impact Acceleration Account NGO Data ESRC-4 (Grant codes ES/S501359/1 and ES/M500409/1), Principal Investigator: Dr Anna Barford.