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Young Workers from Across the Globe Unite for World Day for Decent Work

World Day for Decent Work

In honor of World Day for Decent Work, Oct. 7, youth across the globe are mourning for the dead and organizing for the next generation of workers—those struggling to make ends meet. The call to action this day is to organize for dignity, respect and a voice on the job. 

With college tuition and debt at an all-time high, it is becoming harder for young workers to find stable, full-time, good jobs that pay well. Young workers are among the hardest hit by the global economic crisis that has exacerbated the challenges to obtain decent work. Youth are almost three times as likely to be unemployed as seasoned workers, with young women being the hardest hit and making up as much as 40% of the world's unemployed. Between 1997 and 2007, the total number of unemployed youth rose from 63 million to 71 million and is still rising dramatically. For young workers in the Americas, the numbers are a sobering reality: 32 million, or one out of every five youth between the ages of 15 and 29, are unemployed and out of school.

Young workers are not only more often unemployed than seasoned workers, they also are more often underemployed with their degrees or credentialing not being recognized. Youth also are more likely to be hired in precarious, temporary and informal jobs, with lower wages and less Social Security—which has long-term consequences. If these issues aren’t addressed, the next generation of workers will see their livelihoods and those of their families compromised. Can we afford to have a generation of unemployed youth, with high student loan debt, stuck in a cycle of poverty?

In G-20 countries, youth unemployment ranges from 20% to 50%. In Ireland, one-third of young workers are unemployed. In Spain, 50% of youth are unemployed, and here in the United States, the crisis is increasing. According to a report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), 45 million youth will be looking for work every year for the next 10 years. Youth unemployment is not only a global concern—it’s something we should be paying attention to here at home.

The unemployment rate for America's workers 16 to 24 years old is 16.2%, more than double the overall 7.5% jobless rate. We have to recognize that we too in America have a youth unemployment problem. There are 8.2 million youth between 20 and 24 years of age who are out of work—as an even more alarming statistic when you look at the numbers for Latino and African American youth who are twice as likely to be unemployed.  

According to the Center for American Progress, youth unemployment could have long-term consequences: A six-month period of unemployment costs a person younger than 25 at least $45,000 in lost wages.

The time to act is now! We need to break the vicious cycle of youth poverty and unemployment. Organize the unorganized and open the doors of opportunity to the American DREAM to All. Just 7% of working people in the formal and informal sectors are union members, yet hundreds of millions more want the security and protection that unions provide. Organizing new members is the most crucial task facing the union movement worldwide, and the World Day for Decent Work is calling attention to that.

The future of our movement depends on our ability to engage and organize young workers to join the labor movement. The only way to get the economy back on track and serve the interests of the many rather than the few is by building workers’ power.

World Day for Decent Work has been organized by the ITUC and its affiliates throughout the globe since 2008.

Follow tweets about the World Day for Decent Work on Twitter by using the hashtags #wddw2013 and #youthwithrights.

Cesar Moreno-Perez is president of the Young Workers Committee of TUCA and executive board member of the  Labor Council for Latin American Advancement .
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