Despite high unemployment, young Nicaraguans are hopeful

Dec 7, 2011

Launching a program for youth, migration, and employment (Photo: UNDP Nicaragua)

More than 62 percent of young Nicaraguans are optimistic about their future despite high levels of unemployment, poverty, and violence, according to a recently published UNDP report titled "National Report on Human Development 2011: The young people building Nicaragua."

The report analyzes the status of adolescents (aged 13 to 17) and young adults (aged 18 to 29). It states that 40 percent of young Nicaraguans are unemployed or work in the informal sector, while 50 percent live in poverty.

Almost a million adolescents and young adults— close to half of the total population of young Nicaraguans—are considered disadvantaged in terms of education, health, employment, and living conditions. Despite such setbacks, they have high expectations in terms of development, progress, and hope.

A comparison between 2001, 2005, and 2009 shows that poverty is decreasing for young people, and the current generation has greater opportunities for growth. For example, young Nicaraguans enjoy increased access to technology and, on average, have received nine years of education, while their parents only received eight years.

“It’s great to see that the large majority of young people are enthusiastic, skilled and feel that they have opportunities to contribute to the country’s development,” said Maria Rosa Renzi, UNDP Nicaragua coordinator for economic development with equity. “But from a human development perspective, we should be concerned that the other 40 percent of young people say that they have not had these opportunities."

Domestic violence is also a major concern. According to the report, young Nicaraguans value family because it represents a support space. However, report coordinator Donald Mendez warns it “can also represent a space for violence.”

The study reveals alarming data: adolescent girls are the victims of almost half of the country's reported cases of female killings, or femicide. In addition, cases of teenage pregnancy still remain high and many result from domestic violence. Despite the overall reduction in the birth rate, women aged 10 to 19 contributed to 27.5 percent of all births in 2009, one of the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world.

"This report sends an urgent call to the country to invest in its youth today,” urged Mendez, who added that young people considered themselves leaders “who lack decision-making power.”

Window of opportunity - The UNDP study surveyed 4,200 people and collected data from the past decade to show that Nicaragua is undergoing unprecedented change in its population makeup. In 1980, for every two people of working age, there were two dependents (people under 15 and over 65). By 2030, it is estimated that there will only be one dependent for every two people of working age.

This phenomenon is known as the “demographic transition,”which means a decrease in overall birth and death rates leading to a larger number of people who are able to work, and creating a series of opportunities. It can allow adolescents and young adults to improve their living conditions, breaking the cycles of poverty and inequality for their families—potentially strengthening the social and economic development of Nicaragua, the report argues.

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Nicaragua Pablo Mandeville stressed that promoting human development in the country also requires “strengthening education, eliminating inequalities, strengthening public institutions and regulatory frameworks, and learning more about young people in order to better analyze the situation and take appropriate steps.”

The report includes a new Multidimensional Youth Poverty Index, with a methodology that moves beyond usual measures of income and consumption to take into account other significant factors in the lives of adolescents and young adults, such as education, health, employment and living conditions among young men and women aged 25-29.

The report was created with the help of several United Nations agencies and funds, including the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Volunteers Program, the Pan-American Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, and the International Labor Organization.

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