Workers tend to lack job and income stability such that any misfortune, for example, poor health or a natural disaster, can quickly lead to unemployment and falling into – or deeper into – poverty. Evidence points to increased rates of participation in the informal economy following the onset of the global economic crisis. An analysis of employment trends in six Latin American countries found that in 2009, up to 82.4 per cent of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 were employed in the informal economy, up from 80.8 per cent in 2007, and compared to 50.2 per cent of adults between the ages of 30 and 64 (International Labour Organization, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2009, p. 52).
Informal employment falls outside the reach of government regulation, and is therefore more susceptible to exploitative conditions. In fact, the period between 2004 and 2008 saw a 20 per cent rise in the number of young people between the ages of 15 and 17 who were engaged in hazardous work – work that is harmful to their health and personal development. In 2008, nearly half of young workers in that age group were in such employment, which affects more than twice as many boys as girls (International Labour Organization, International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, 2011, pp. 7-9).
About 152 million young workers live in households that are below the poverty line of the equivalent of US$1.25 per day – comprising 24 per cent of the total working poor (International Labour Organization, 2010, p. 26). Working poverty thus affects approximately twice the number of young people world-wide than does unemployment, despite the alarming rate of youth unemployment. Many of the working poor are engaged in agricultural work in countries and regions where unemployment rates are relatively low, such as in South Asia, East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, yet where there is limited access to social protection. Young workers who are trapped in working poverty – who represent 28.1 per cent of all young workers, globally (ibid.) – may be unable to pursue an education that could offer them better quality employment opportunities in the future. Without such opportunities, prospects for a better life for them and their children remain dim.