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The Evidence is In: How Should Youth Employment Programs in Low-Income Countries Be Designed?

Louise Fox, Upaasna Kaul
United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
September 8, 2017

Youth in many low-income countries are entering the labor force in unprecedented numbers, yet many struggle to secure rewarding livelihoods. This paper outlines the economic development challenges that constrain youth’s transition into employment, and it parses the evidence on which programs and policies appear to speed that transition. It concludes that it may be time for a fundamental reassessment of approaches for addressing youth employment and the youth transition in low-income countries.

Employment opportunities in low-income countries reflect the pace of economic and structural transformation. In designing strategies, policies, and programs to meet the entry-into-employment challenge for youth, the starting point is to diagnose the economy and current/future employment opportunities.

Combined with the analysis of youth employment problems from a structural transformation perspective, evidence from rigorous evaluations of youth employment interventions provides new insight into which kinds of interventions are more likely to help youth succeed in certain contexts. The evidence reviewed here casts serious doubt on the efficacy and value of training interventions to help youth enter formal wage employment. The case is stronger for interventions that speed the transition to self-employment in farming or non-farm household enterprises. Support for development of transferable character skills and social integration among youth through PYD programs should be tested further for employment and earnings impacts, perhaps along with cash transfers to youth or access to finance. In reviewing the evidence on cost-effectiveness and sustainability of youth employment impacts, the paper also notes the need for better measures of displacement and general equilibrium effects.

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