IMF Survey: Asian Youth Speak Out

October 12, 2012

  • Unemployment still biggest challenge facing young people
  • Asian youth want more voice and influence
  • IMF’s Shafik warns of legacy of global crisis

Young people need greater voice in the global economic debate as they will inherit the legacy of choices made today, IMF Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik told a seminar on Asian youth held during the 2012 IMF–World Bank Annual Meetings in Tokyo.

Asian Youth Speak Out

IMF Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik (center) with participants from the Youth Dialogue event in Tokyo, Japan (photo: Yo Nagaya)

Youth Dialogue

“The combination of debt, pensions, and health care costs makes me wish that young people had a bigger voice in politics today, because part of the reason that we keep pushing these problems into the future is because you are not complaining,” Shafik said.

“There is a real urgent need for younger people to have a greater voice and vote in elections and express their preferences, because otherwise you risk facing a future in which you are going to have to clean up the mess we’ve left you behind,” she pointed out.

In its second year, the Youth Dialogue reflected the same concerns as the year before: the effects of the global crisis on the youth, in particular, unemployment. Youth from Asia participated in the October 10 debate, “Asian Youth, Voicing their Future.” Five students from Japan, China, Thailand, and Korea—all members of the IMF-sponsored Youth Fellowship Program—talked with Shafik about the challenges they face.

Unemployment: the common thread

Although Asia has been an important engine of growth for the world economy, signs now indicate a slowdown. Youth unemployment is at 12.7 percent globally, according to the International Labor Organization. While youth unemployment is lower in Asia, it remains high, at 9.5 percent.

Japanese panelist Tomoko Kaida, a student from Kanasawa University, said that back home the biggest concern is indeed unemployment. “I have so many friends who are working but struggling…their job is not the thing which they want to do or they are having a hard time finding the next job,” she said.

Lei Wen, a student at the University of International Business and Economics, said this concern is echoed in China, where the growth rate is below 8 percent for the first time in three years. “Every year, the number of graduate students can reach 7 million, but at least 1.5 million cannot find a job,” she said.

Lee Hyo Jin of Seoul University noted that the 1997 financial crisis changed the mentality of Korea’s youth, which may affect today’s unemployment rates.

Today’s youth want to just have jobs in the government because those jobs are more secure, she said. And those opting for the private sector look for jobs in big corporations. “That is why our youth unemployment rate is high—because they actually don’t want to work for small and medium-sized enterprises,” she added.

Legacy of the crisis

Shafik said she was struck at how similar the panelits’ concerns were. And she offered them some hope—and a warning.

“I have absolutely no doubt that you’re all going to find very good jobs,” she said. However, Shafik pointed out that some of the problems the world faces today will leave an unpleasant legacy.

“Many of the countries have huge debts which they are not dealing with. And if we don’t deal with that now, your generation is going to pay the taxes to repay that debt. It’s very simple arithmetic: someone has to pay it. It will come out of your future incomes,” she warned.

The role of the IMF

“I want the IMF to be more proactive,” said Kenji Nakada, a Tokyo University student.

Shafik agreed, and explained that one of the dilemmas for the IMF is that when times are good, it is very hard to get people to pay attention to potential problems. “We often joke that it’s like being at the party and everyone is having a good time and someone has to come and say, ‘Okay, the party is over’…but we must keep trying,” she said.

“I want the IMF to take more powerful and visible actions toward youth,” said Kaida. “I think one of the reasons youth is not interested in politics is because we feel that we are so weak, and have no power to change society,” he lamented.

Shafik noted that events like this debate are opportunities for youth to have a voice. “We’re also trying to be savvier about social media as a way for us to connect with young people more readily,” she said.

Asia as a community

Panelists debated ways in which Asian countries can come closer together and be the region that leads the global economy.

Thitiwat Kaewwattanaborworn, a student at Thammasat University in Thailand, said that free trade among Asian countries would benefit the region. “The economic growth in Asian countries is high. This would give them more potential to be even better off.”

Shafik remarked that one of the most impressive things about the Asian economy is the degree to which the supply chains of companies are interconnected across the region.

“There is huge scope to build on that increasing interdependency across Asia to build other forms of cooperation,” she said.

True wealth

Saki Yagi, broadcaster for Nippon Television Network, who moderated the event, asked panelists to write down what, in their view, is true wealth.

Faith and trust,” said Nakada. “We’ve seen this great disaster in the northern part of Japan, but at the same time, we heard lots of beautiful stories of recovery…more than economic growth, human relations such as trust and faith are very important.”

For Jin, true wealth is harmony. “Material wealth can be easily achieved but if this material wealth is not equally distributed into the world, probably psychological wealth is not achieved. The true realization of wealth is harmony.”

Sufficiency,” noted Kaewwattanaborworn. “If people have sufficient wealth, we will not take advantage of each other and the world will be a better place.”

Happiness,” said Wen. “People are facing a lot of problems like unemployment…maybe happiness can reflect the true feeling from the bottom of people’s hearts.”

Dream, in Japanese, is ‘Uma’,” said Kaida. “A wealthy society is one where people have dreams of getting a good education, getting jobs, and dreaming that their kids are going to have a happy life.”

“I vote for happiness,” said Shafik. “I’ve spent time at various points in my life with people who have had very little and yet they often had very happy relationships with the people around them and have a sense of purpose and peace in their life.”

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