Bleak job outlook for “young” Gen-Z Panamanians



The recent results of the Labor Market Survey as of August 2023, carried out by the Institute of Statistics and Census (Inec), which collects the evolution of employment, marked a strong trend of the crisis experienced by Panamanian youth employment.

In the reference month of the survey, the population aged 15 and over was 3,354,784. The economically active population (EAP) of the country was 2,094,241 people, which represented 62.4% of the population aged 15 and over.

Although 23.9% of those employed were young people, aged 15 to 29, 62.1% were between 30 and 59 years old and 14.0% were aged 60 and over.

Youth unemployment (15-29 years old) represented 54.3% of total unemployment, this means that of every 100 unemployed people, 54 are between 15 and 29 years old. In this sense, the youth unemployment rate for August 2023 was recorded at 15.4%.

The total unemployed population in the national territory was 155,625 people, decreasing by 23.4% compared to April 2022, when 203,253 unemployed people were registered. By sex, it was estimated that there were 72,310 unemployed men and 83,315 women, observing a decrease in the percentage variation of 31.4% and 14.9%, respectively.

In terms of percentage variation by geographic area, a decrease of 25.7% was observed in the urban area as well as 9.2% in the rural area; all this compared to April 2022.

For labor consultant René Quevedo, despite the fact that between May 2022 and August 2023 there was a decrease in the number of unemployed (-25,570) and “NEETs” (-28,664) between 15 and 29 years old, young people in that age range age went from obtaining 40% of new jobs (from October 2021 to April 2022) to 10% (May 2022 to August 2023).

Young people, he said, in that age range are today 24% of the workers and 54% of the unemployed in the country. Of every 100 young people between 15 and 29 years old, 45 work, 31 study and 23 are NEETs.

Now, 9 out of 10 young people who found employment did so as office workers (24%), farmers (19%), artisans (19%), unskilled labor (18%) and commercial workers (11% ).

According to Inec, of the 1,153,755 people who declared themselves to be purely inactive, 379,788 were men and 773,967 were women.

75.0% of the pure inactive people resided in urban areas, of which 57.2% are located in the provinces of Panama and Panama Oeste.

Among the main reasons why men do not look for work were attending an educational center (40.4%) or being retired or pensioned (34.1%).

While for women there were other family responsibilities (31.4%), they attend an educational center (21.8%) or because they are retired or pensioned (18.8%).

In a general overview, Quevedo recalled that the Labor Market Survey as of August 2023, which includes the evolution of employment before the recent social crisis that paralyzed the country “shows a positive evolution of employment in the 16 months since its last measurement (April 2022).

108,003 jobs were created and 15,750 were lost, for a net expansion of 92,253 jobs, an average of 6,750 new jobs per month, 65% of them formal.

According to the labor consultant, “these figures indicate a 60% decrease in the pace of job creation and 8 points in the quality of employment in relation to 2022, since between October 2021 and April 2022 the economy generated an average of 16,996 new monthly jobs, 73% formal.”

More than half of the employment expansion between April 2022 and August 2023 occurred in five sectors: Agriculture (13%), hotels/restaurants (11%), government (11%), administrative activities and support services (11%) and industry (6%). The contraction (15,750) took place in trade (49%), other service activities (42%) and transport/logistics (9%).

Quevedo reported that 83% of the workers who found employment between May 2022 and August 2023 are commercial workers (38%), farmers (23%) or office employees (22%). He added that the figures are consistent with the evolution of the new contracts processed by the Ministry of Labor and Labor Development, which between January and September 2023 processed an average of 23,117 new employment contracts per month, 30% less than the 32,893 per month processed by the entity in the same period of 2019.

“The impact that the protests and street closures, which began in October, have had on the evolution of employment remains unknown. Preliminary estimates show the loss of approximately 50,000 jobs, particularly in activities such as commerce, agriculture, tourism and logistics, sectors with high levels of work presence,” estimated the labor consultant.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in the report “Social Panorama of Latin America and the Caribbean 2023”, revealed last November, reports on the persistence of historical gender gaps in labor markets.

While the labor participation rate for men was 74.5% in 2022, that of women reached only 51.9% (a gap of 22.6 percentage points). Women also have higher unemployment rates (8.6% compared to 5.8% for men in 2022).

The main barrier to women’s labor inclusion is the care workload, says ECLAC: the participation rate of women in households with children (61.6%) is lower than that of households without children (73. ,5%).

Domestic work, ECLAC points out, represents one of the main sources of employment for women in Latin America, but the average income received by domestic workers is half of that received on average by employed women.

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