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Time to Go to Work
The World Bank has just released its 2013 World Development Report (WDR) and this year’s edition is on jobs. I haven’t read it all yet, but I’m excited by the focus on jobs. I hope this report will get the attention of policymakers – because jobs should be at the top of their agenda as they work to reduce hunger and poverty.
The 2008 WDR, which focused on agriculture, had this kind of effect on policymakers, showing them how investments in smallholder agriculture are directly related to reducing poverty. The WDR on agriculture was released not long before the global food-price crisis erupted in 2008. For several months the world’s attention was fixed on hunger, and the WDR gave policymakers a resource to understand and begin to see solutions to the structural issues that were feeding the crisis. Agricultural development was quickly elevated to the top of the agenda. Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s own response, appears to be highly influenced by the 2008 WDR.
I don’t know whether the 2013 report will have that kind of effect. A report in and of itself is unlikely to inspire or spur a seismic shift in policy debates. It feels to me a little bit like this report is trying to catch up with events. The Arab Spring of 2011 awakened the world to the alarming numbers of youth in North Africa and the Middle East who are unable to find work. They were frustrated by the inaction of their national governments, the situation reached a boiling point, and we all saw what happened next. The youth unemployment crisis is hardly confined to this one world region. The 2013 WDR tells us:
As the world struggles to emerge from the global crisis, some 200 million people—including 75 million under the age of 25—are unemployed. Many millions more, most of them women, find themselves shut out of the labor force altogether. Looking forward, over the next 15 years an additional 600 million new jobs will be needed to absorb burgeoning working-age populations, mainly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
One way the 2013 report could create positive change in the near future is by shaping negotiations at the United Nations on a set of development goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will expire in December 2015. There is already a good deal of debate about what should come next in a post-MDG era. If you believe that goals can drive progress, as Bread for the World Institute does, then we should seek to raise the profile of jobs in the next round of global development goals.
If you’re familiar with the MDGs, you’ll recall that each goal has targets to help measure progress. Besides the key hunger and poverty indicators in MDG 1, there’s also a target to “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.” This target hasn’t gotten the traction it deserves, neither with policymakers nor with the public that advocates for where policymakers should put resources. But with the numbers of unemployed youth expanding rapidly, I don’t think that continuing to duck the problem will be an option for long.
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