No path forward

How does the economic crisis amid the pandemic affect impoverished youth?

Tricontinental Institute dossier analyses the direct impacts of the neo-liberal model upon the lives of Brazilian youth

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
A lack of job opportunities and difficulties keeping up school, are some of the issues facing Brazilian youth amid the pandemic - Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil

Around 10.5 million young Brazilians are neither working nor going to school during the pandemic, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

The coronavirus has impacted a considerable portion of Brazilian youth, many of whom were already in vulnerable situations. For example, in the first trimester of this year alone the average unemployment rate among people between the ages of 18-24 was 27.1%. The northeastern region is the worst affected, with 34.1% of the total.

A dossier published by the Tricontinental Institute of Social Research on Tuesday, October 6th, points to the fact that the pandemic, has laid bare how the perversions of the neo-liberal economic model impact the lives of young Brazilians.

Precariousness in the job market is one of the gravest consequences of this model, this according to Lauro Carvalho, a researcher at the Poor Urban Youth Observatory at the Tricontinental Institute.

With the arrival of the pandemic, most of the time, gigs and freelance work are the only job and revenue opportunities available to young people. In Carvalho’s view, this reality corroborates the notion posited by neo-liberalism, that entrepreneurship is always the best option.

Among the youth of this generation, when compared to their parents for example, there is a notable difference when it comes to perspectives for the future. This day in age, young people are doomed to dealing with instant gratification, with no perspective of building a stable career, and moreover not seeing work as space for collective constructivism.

“This young generation lives under the logic of individual entrepreneurship. They are always seeking out information, what is new, to compete, to be more in tune, to go where needed in search of money, which is a different perspective on work, different from the previous generation’s”, affirms the researcher.

He highlights that young people from poorer areas are more directly impacted and points to app delivery workers, who staged a two strikes in July, as a good example of the influence this kind of logic has, while reminding us that debates related to unions end up being seen in a negative light by this generation.

“The logic of the individual entrepreneur manifests itself through the right of access to the app, not being cut off, being able to work long hours. The issues of employment ties, of contracts, the idea of retirement, of workers' rights, don’t play a central role anymore. The idea of being your own boss, of being an entrepreneur, is more appealing to young people than that of being an employee”, analyses Carvalho.

No classes, no healthcare, no homes

Beyond the direct loss of jobs, the pandemic has put forth barriers when it comes to young people’s studies, from basic all the way up to higher education. According to Lauro Carvalho’s analysis, the precariousness of remote learning makes studying less attractive and inflames the notion that education is not a surefire way of improving living conditions and inserting oneself into the job market.

“The youth has difficulties in keeping up with their studies. Though schools have offered remote classes, young people from poorer areas in particular have a hard time keeping up through their phones, sometimes there is no internet at home, something that really makes things difficult over the course of the year. Another example is taking the National College Admissions Exam (Enem), which is a short term problem they will have to face”.

For Stella Paterniani, also a researcher at the Poor Urban Youth Observatory and a doctor in social anthropology, the high concentration of covid-19 cases in impoverished urban areas, exposes the colonial patterns of territorial occupation.

Just like the youth, domestic workers and nurses and other workers didn’t have the right to remain under quarantine. While commuting to work they are more exposed to the virus, and upon returning home, they are faced with the precariousness of the public health system.

The researcher underlines the fact that these are people and places that were already marred by conditions of structural inequality, which in Brazil are characterized by race and class. As an example, she cites research done by the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, which shows that the chances of an illiterate black or mixed race patient dying from covid-19, was 3,8 times higher than that of a white patient with higher education.

Paterniani calls attention to the issue of housing, seeing as even amid the pandemic evictions in urban areas continue to take place. An analysis done by the Zero Evictions campaign shows that more than 6 thousand Brazilian families have been evicted during this period. In the city of São Paulo alone, there were 1681 forced removals, totalling 26% of all cases.

“At a time when the motto is ‘stay at home’, the Brazilian state is creating homelessness, destroying homes, leaving families with no one to turn to. Necropolitics as State policy is nothing new in our country”, she laments.

“What our history shows us is that some persons can never be safe, neither at home nor on the streets. Poor, young black youth’s lives are always under threat. If they leave home, they are in danger because of the virus, if they stay home they are threatened by the State”, criticizes Paterniani, referring to the lack of a structured social assistance network, as well as police brutality.

Political person

The 33rd dossier of the Tricontinental Institute, also reflects upon the history of black youth in Brazil, as a political segment essential to social mobilization. For example, these were the young people who stood alongside workers and immigrants against imperialism and large European economic blocks at the start of the 2000’s, in the so-called anti-globalization movement.

Another thing that called Paterniani’s attention, is how the youth is challenging the divide between culture and politics.

“The struggles for national liberation, the 1968 movements, are articulated by both art and politics. In Brazil we see this clearly starting in the 90’s, when cultural movements from impoverished areas grow and intensify. Things like rap, hip-hop, funk parties, black music parties, and further along in the 2000’s, poetry circles and slams, all became self organizing cultural and political spaces”, she explained, adding that fighting racism, LGBT phobia, feminism and the anti-capitalist struggle are among the main banners hoisted by these movements.

The document, titled An Overview of the Youth and Impoverished Areas During CoronaShock, also investigates the need for social movements to develop closer ties with youth collectives, mainly, how to understand youth participation in politics, seeing as young people are constantly bombarded with neo-liberal promises.

Researcher Lauro Carvalho thinks that “though the young people of today were born under the influence of neo-liberalism and carry this seed, they also carry the seed of transformation”.

“It’s not by chance that what’s newest, most innovative and attractive, has been coming from the youth lately. When we speak of structural change, we need to incorporate the youth in this process, whether it be on the left or in any other political project”, he emphasized.

Edited by: Leandro Melito