The faces and voices of youth working a tough global economy

The global youth unemployment rate has hit a level near its all-time high, according to new data from the International Labor Organization, as global income inequality continues to grow as well.

“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,” said Deborah Greenfield, the ILO’s deputy director-general for policy.

The rate is expected to hit 13.1 percent this year and remain at that level in 2017.  The economic aftermath of the Arab Spring and lingering recessions in Europe and Latin America have contributed to the increase, but high levels of youth unemployment are a global phenomenon. Even in countries like the United States where overall unemployment rates have returned to pre-recession levels, young people have not seen relief.

And economic frustration is expressing itself in many forms, from political movements and entrepreneurship to depression and violence.

To better understand what is happening, The GroundTruth Project joined RTI International and the Global Center for Youth Employment to develop YouthVoices, a digital media project that combines the unfiltered stories of young people with more traditional journalistic editing to share their local stories with a global audience. It’s a continuation of GroundTruth’s in-depth reporting on youth unemployment, “Generation TBD: Despair and Opportunity for Millennials in an Uncertain Global Economy.”

On September 8, we will launch a multimedia series powered by YouthVoices called “Ambitions Interrupted: 35 Dream Jobs” in partnership with the Huffington Post. It’s a celebration of the humanity of youth who are not giving up despite the grim numbers.

Their stories demonstrate the “remarkable in the unremarkable,” the resilience and personal triumphs within the difficult journey from education to employment and perhaps, landing a dream job. In March we asked youth from around the world, “What is your dream job? What’s standing in your way?” A panel of expert judges selected the winners from hundreds of compelling entries from dozens of countries.

The 35 are working to become farmers, doctors, journalists, engineers and diplomats. They represent the human potential behind the sky-high youth unemployment rates, economic inequality and political disenchantment. They are the real voices of youth demonstrating the power of their own stories.

(April Y. Kasulis/GroundTruth)
Fatima hopes to inspire other Filipino youth to pursue their dreams. (April Y. Kasulis/GroundTruth)

“I’m the type of person who lives the simplest of lives, but dreams the scariest of dreams,” wrote Fatima Intal, a 17-year-old student in Manila, Philippines. “I am so motivated to do and achieve things that are beyond my limitations, and there is this one thing that really keeps me going: inspiration.”

The World Bank estimated the Philippines’ youth unemployment rate at 16.4 percent in 2014.

“My parents are suggesting that I study teaching, which they think would be more affordable,” wrote Brilliant Muyunda, an 18-year-old aspiring journalist from Lusaka, Zambia. “But my passion for journalism still stands because I believe that if my journalism dream gets shuttered, teaching will not bring satisfaction in my lifetime.

(April Y. Kasulis/GroundTruth)
Brilliant wants to become a journalist in Zambia, but isn’t sure how to pay for his college education. (April Y. Kasulis/GroundTruth)

Zambia’s youth unemployment rate was 25.1 percent in 2014, according to the World Bank.

“I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be studying this year. It’s my fourth year at home, unemployed,” wrote Khensani Ruth Mahwayi, a 23-year-old from Johannesburg, South Africa who wants to become a filmmaker. “I promised myself I would try again next year and I intend on keeping that promise. In the meantime, I am writing, writing and writing.”

At 52.6 percent, South Africa’s youth unemployment rate is among the highest in the world. But economies like Spain (57.9 percent), Greece (53.9 percent),  Italy (44.1 percent), Iran (29.4 percent), Egypt (42 percent) and the Dominican Republic (31.4) are just a few of the others where a generation of young people are working tough odds to build their futures.