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One-in-Five of Brazil’s Young Adults Inactive

By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Twenty percent of young adults in Brazil are not studying, working, or even looking for a job, according to a study by Rio de Janeiro State University, UERJ. This reflects around 5.3 million young Brazilians aged between 18 and 25 that are now outside both the educational and employment systems in Brazil, where they are known as nem-nems, after the Portuguese for “neither, nor.”

Twenty percent of young adults in Brazil are not studying, working, or looking for a job, photo by Adenilson Nunes/Secom.
Twenty percent of young adults in Brazil are not studying, working, or looking for a job, photo by Adenilson Nunes/Secom.

The figure rises to 7.2 million young people, or one-in-four, if you include those in search of employment but who have so far been unsuccessful. The study is based on data taken from the 2010 Census.

The study found that in many cases, young people had dropped out of college and subsequently struggled to find work, and that young women were twice as likely to fall into the “nem-nem” category as their male counterparts.

Pregnancies explain this to a point, the study’s authors say, but for many others an overwhelming sense of dejection is to blame.

What is more worrying is that this was the situation when the Census was undertaken in 2010, when Brazil was going through a period of sustained strong growth; the economy expanded 7.5 percent that year.

“These young people have ended up with really poor qualifications, so poor in fact that when they left school, the labor market – even at full tilt [as it was in 2010] – did not take them on,” Prof. Adalberto Cardoso, who coordinated the study, told O Globo newspaper. “The result is that they give up and the poorest are affected the worse,” he concludes, adding that some of these have been “pushed” into crime.

Cambridge University professor Flávio Comim says promoting Brazil’s young people should now be prioritized after they were marginalized during the country’s period of growth. This, he warns, will become a problem down the line as Brazil’s population continues to age.

All this comes at a time when Brazil is in desperate need of more qualified workers, and business analysts say 5.3 million young potentially working Brazilians, the same as the population of Minnesota, is a real waste of a resource that is both highly sought-after and sorely-needed to get the country back to the kind of economic growth seen in 2010.

Rio's Maracanã stadium, August 31, 2012, image recreation.
Infrastructure projects linked to the World Cup, such as those around Maracanã Stadium (pictured), should be boosting employment, but many Brazilians are lacking in qualifications, image recreation.

The lack of skilled workers means companies will have to find other ways to boost their profits, particularly by increasing their productivity and demanding more of those already working for them.

It has even revived talk within the government of attempts to lure qualified young people from Europe, where unemployment boomed due to the financial crisis there, in order to plug the gaps in the Brazilian market.

In Brazil, experts warn that encouraging young people in stay in education is going to be key to solving this issue: “Once a young person stops seeing the benefit of education, they forfeit their chance of a better future,” says economist Naércio Menezes.

Other economists say Brazil’s economic growth, albeit slow at present, means this younger, stay-at-home generation might have a better chance at a career in the long run.

They also highlight that the UERJ study does not consider those in informal education, and that, priced out of private education, some young people are being home-schooling due to the standard of the public system.

Unemployment in Brazil is still considered low, and although figures have not been released since May due to industrial action by civil servants at that point the level had reduced to 5.8 percent, thanks to a more plentiful jobs market, although one that admittedly remained “tight,” according to experts interviewed by The Rio Times.

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