#1May – Workers’ Day – challenges for youth and unemployment in the midst of the pandemic

CESE recognizes the context of extreme social inequality, structural unemployment and precarious labour relations within the neoliberal approach, which define a development model that ignores different ways of life and deepens ethnic and racial segregation and the subordination of women.  In this month of labour, we seek to reflect on the issues of social inequality and racism that are affecting young people and women (particularly domestic workers) within the world of work during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this initial text, we highlight reports from three leaders regarding challenges for young people facing unemployment and particularly the precarious nature of work for this sector.



Photo: Roberto Parizotti/FotosPúblicas

In the third quarter of 2020, there were more than 4 million Brazilians aged between 18 and 24 years searching for work in the pandemic – the equivalent of 31.4% of their total number.

The unemployment rate in Brazil reached increasingly high levels during the pandemic.  In January 2021, 14.3 million people in the country were unemployed.  This represents an increase of 300 thousand unemployed over a period of only two months. Within this, one section of the population has been most heavily affected: young people.

The data comes from the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios Contínua: PNAD Contínua), published in November 2020 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística: IBGE).

Access to professional training, to work and to income, in conditions of freedom, equity and security, adequately remunerated with social protections and incentives for young rural workers in the organization of the production of family farming and rural family enterprises are rights laid down in the Youth Statute, as recalled in the publication “Young People’s Right to Life” written in partnership by: the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE); the Ecumenical Centre for Biblical Studies (Centro de Estudos Bíblicos: CEBI) and the Ecumenical Youth Network (Rede Ecumênica da Juventude: REJU).

In the third quarter of 2020, approximately 4.3 million of all Brazilians seeking employment were aged between 18 and 24 years – approximately 13.6 million people at that time. Representatives of different grassroots youth organizations point to common factors to explain the predominance of young people in the unemployed in Brazil: one of which is alleged lack of experience.

Hélio Barbosa, one of the founders of the Association of Youth, Culture and Citizenship (Associação de Juventudes, Cultura e Cidadania: AJURCC), and today a member of its board and an educator at the association, questions this justification.  “There is this prejudice that young people are unqualified because they don’t have experience, at the very time they are denied the opportunity to work.  So, how will they acquire this experience?” he asked.

He also denounced the racism present in these rejections, since black people also represent the highest portion of the unemployed in Brazil – approximately 19% above the national average of 14.6%, also in the third quarter of 2020.  “If you are black and live in a city periphery, at a distance, they say you live too far away, or they associate you with drug trafficking, violence, they think that you will commit a crime.  They say that experience in a factory doesn’t fit in a supermarket, and on it goes”.

For him there is a cycle related to the precariousness of work and Brazilian youth. “The search for formal work doesn’t produce results.  You are young, from a poor family, you need to contribute to household expenses, so you agree to weed a garden or take care of animals and receive 20 or 30 Brazilian Reals for something that took you the whole day.  You stop studying, you stop training and the search for formal work once again produces no results”.

Maurílio Nogueira, educator at the Youth Forum of Pernambuco (Fórum da Juventude de Pernambuco: FOJUPE)

Maurílio Nogueira, who works as an educator at the Youth Forum of Pernambuco (Fórum da Juventude de Pernambuco: FOJUPE) and represents the organization on the State Council of Public Policies for Young People in Pernambuco, expresses his concern about the mental health of young people from city peripheries during the pandemic.






“In addition to not having formal employment, as well as many confronting the family and street violence that permeates their lives, these young people are also faced with imprisonment in the home.  It’s important to stay at home, because we are protecting ourselves from a virus, but they aren’t occupied.  How many of our young people are selling things at traffic lights because they don’t see any other possibility?  Are trying to do or ask for something?” he challenged.

Education and Cultural Coordinator at the Cultural and Agricultural Association of Young Environmentalists from Paraíba (Associação Cultural e Agrícola dos Jovens Ambientalistas da Paraíba: ACAJAMAN)

For Tiago Aquino, Education and Cultural Coordinator at the Cultural and Agricultural Association of Young Environmentalists from Paraíba (Associação Cultural e Agrícola dos Jovens Ambientalistas da Paraíba: ACAJAMAN), in the rural area of Alagoa Nova in the state of Paraíba this precariousness begins in childhood.  “From the fifth year of school pupils are obliged to leave the countryside and go and study in the city because many schools are closing down.  In some areas, children aged 5 or 6 need to go to the city to study”.



Within this scenario, Tiago also highlights the lack of value given to countryside activities in schools. “They don’t work on agroecology, farming, agroindustry, but rather in technology, administration and this only encourages young people to leave the land”.  Then there is the question of the pejorative view of people who live in the countryside: the ‘bumpkins’ ‘farming doesn’t make money’, ‘you should work to be a doctor, not a farmer’”.

He also highlights certain situations similar to those described by Hélio and Maurílio but in the context of the countryside.  “If young people who stay in the countryside want to work, since they don’t have land, they have to work for somebody.  And that will be in the sugarcane fields, badly paid, with no guarantees, often without registered employment.  If this person is injured, they won’t receive any welfare.”


Counterparts before and during the pandemic 

Given the high rates of unemployment during the pandemic, young people are also seeking alternative income generation.  Certain cases require more drastic decisions.  Within FOJUPE, Maurílio reports that funds destined for a large activity have been converted into aid to support certain forum members.

“When we saw that many young people from the Forum’s Coordination team were not working and were in need, we came to this decision. They are young people who run the forum and receive no remuneration at all.  We were going through a difficult period, so we took these funds and transformed them into monthly grants until September.  The amount isn’t very high,” Maurílio explained.

Tiago then described how young people in his region got organized to avoid wasting the crops that had been planted.  “Since we’re going through this pandemic, we need to stay at home, so we set up a direct sales network at ACAJAMAN.  People who want a product call us and we take them what they request.  It’s like a delivery system, to avoid losing these crops”.

Coordinator of the Socio-environmental Development and Human Rights programmes at the Centre for Art and the Environment (Centro de Arte e Meio Ambiente: CAMA)

Ana Carine Nascimento, a young black woman and Coordinator of the Socio-environmental Development and Human Rights programmes at the Centre for Art and the Environment (Centro de Arte e Meio Ambiente: CAMA), notes the importance of the solidarity economy as an alternative to unemployment and social exclusion.





“The solidarity economy came about precisely to combat the exclusion of the current economic model which is aimed at production and profit without thinking about people. This is aimed at income generation, but from another perspective, which is that of well-being, cooperation, self-management, sustainability; the division of profits between participants is equal,” she noted.

She cited some examples of CAMA’s experiences with solidarity economic enterprises over its 25 years. “The Cooperative of Selective Collection, Plastic Processing and Environmental Protection (Cooperativa de Coleta Seletiva, Processamento de Plástico e Proteção Ambiental: CAMAPET) was our first example in thinking about income generation based on the commercialization of waste and this was carried out by young black people from the community at that time. Another example is the Solidarity and Sustainable Sewing (Costura Solidária e Sustentável) initiative, an enterprise exclusively made up of black women that gives new meaning to a little-used material – vinyl canvas.  It is not at all easy.  There are a number of obstacles along the way, such as commercialization and income.”

For his part, Hélio talks about two AJURCC initiatives supported by CESE that highlight the fact that professional qualifications can come about prior to employment. One of these took place in 2020.  “The ‘Black Pathways’ project was a coalition of organizations that worked with young black men and women in the city with an agenda to hold dialogue and stimulate their participation in decision-making arenas in Campina Grande,” he reported.

“When we train or contribute to the training of young leaders from the perspective of participation and access to rights, in the issues of gender and race, against homophobia and racism, we are indirectly qualifying a professional,” he added.  And from this example, he remembered his first experience of receiving support from CESE, in 2008.

“When CESE supported our first project in 2008, none of us were graduates or interested in politics.  After this project, half trained in sociology, a number in social work, in agricultural engineering.  You begin to promote a process of participation which encourages people to seek out more qualifications, not only for the labour market, but to contribute to the development of society based on professional action,” he added.

He ended his talk outlining a scenario with varied professionals trained in these arenas.  “Imagine women who participated in training and went on to occupy arenas of power and who today are in a department managing programmes, coordinating graduate courses, giving classes at universities.  This was what happened because of CESE’s intervention and we hope the same thing happens with those who participated in the ‘Black Pathways’ training”.

Work and CESE

With its Right to Work and Income policy, CESE is seeking the guarantee of the necessary conditions for the production and reproduction of life, strengthening resistance to the neoliberal dynamic and stimulating the construction of alternatives in the field of production, commercialization and consumption, such as family and peasant farming, agroecology, the solidarity economy and grassroots sectors.