President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says the world should accept that there is no easy fix for youth unemployment, but that partnership between the public and private sectors can make a difference in tackling this global problem.
The Liberian leader spoke on Wednesday, January 22, in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, when she addressed the opening plenary session of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting on “Reshaping the World through Entrepreneurship, Education and Employment.”
In a speech delivered in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland as a panelist at the forum, the Liberian President said that large corporations that have been able to obtain concessions in developing countries should be prepared to address their host nation’s unemployment problems through training, social benefits to communities, improvement in infrastructure in the communities, and through better relations and knowledge exchanged with people in the communities.
The Liberian leader indicated that there must also be an urgent response to the call for linkages between the activities of large corporations and the world economy, acknowledging that the evidence is clear that significant employment is not created by the large concessions and corporations, which are largely capital intensive in their operations, but by the small and medium-sized enterprises which lead to the development of a middle class, the most sustainable driver of employment.
She underscored that unless the world finds a solution to youth unemployment, the consequence for society, politics and business is likely to be civil upheaval, political instability and economic disruption across the globe.
President Sirleaf also mentioned that the International Labor Organization in 2013 estimated the global youth unemployment rate at 12.6 percent, implying unemployment of 73.8 million young people globally. In developed economies, youth unemployment increased by 24.9 percent since 2008, while some large economies, like Spain and Greece, registered rates over 50 percent.
During the same period, she pointed out, youth unemployment rates in developing economies were highest in the Middle East and North Africa, at 28.3 percent and 23.7 percent, respectively, and in sub-Saharan Africa at 11.8 percent, ignoring the extremely high level of vulnerably employed. She attributed such high youth unemployment to a missing pool of skilled labor, as well as insufficient growth to absorb a growing labor force. Consequently, surplus workers face vulnerabilities as they are pushed into the informal sector where they lack regular income, benefits, job security, and pensions.
The Liberian President also pointed out that structural unemployment affects most vulnerable young people, who comprise large numbers of economic migrants, particularly from Asia and Africa, who continue to seek refuge in Europe, risking their lives in perilous voyages to pursue a livelihood, with resulting racial tensions in host countries.
She quoted an African Development Bank finding that in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in all of North Africa, it is easier for men to get jobs than it is for woman, and that the effect of unemployment in women is similar.
The session was also addressed by the first female President of the Republic of Korea, Park Geun-Hye, who urged the world to join Korea’s journey towards the development of a creative economy across the globe. She also called upon participants of the 2014 World Economic Forum to work towards an economic engine that takes the world beyond current constraints.
Opening her statement, President Sirleaf said the following to the world gathering: “Despite Switzerland’s frigid January weather, compared to the balmy temperature of my country, Liberia let me say that it is a pleasure to be back in Davos-Klosters for the 2014 World Economic Forum. Our last time here was in 2007 – exactly a year after I took office – where we have made the case for relief of Liberia’s US $4.9 billion external debt. This global platform helped in drawing attention to Liberia’s economic and financial situation. In July 2010, having reached the completion point as a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC), much of the massive debt was waived.”