Projected Increase in Youth Population in LDCs Poses Major Development Challenges

The 2013 Least Developed Countries Report was released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on November 20, an annual, comprehensive summary of socio-economic data and analysis on the world’s most impoverished countries. According to the Committee for Development Policy, a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are identified using criteria including gross national income per capita, human assets index, economic vulnerability index, and population size (i.e., countries with populations exceeding 75 million are not eligible). In 2011, the CDP defined LCDs as, “Low-income countries suffering from the most severe structural impediments to sustainable development.” For a detailed description of the CDP process for identifying LDCs, see the Handbook on the Least Developed Country Category.

The 2013 report examined how to promote growth that generates jobs to achieve poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and sustainable development. In recent years, LDCs in general have experienced moderate economic growth and slowly-expanding per capita income. However, while the proportion of people who live on less than US$1.25 (i.e., “extreme poverty”) has declined, the actual number of people has risen with the growing population. At 2.2% per year in 2011, the LDC population growth rate far exceeded that of developed countries (0.4%).  There are also concerns that the increased per capita income has not been inclusive and poverty reduction has not actually occurred, despite the encouraging numbers. The report explained that this lack of inclusiveness is the result of not enough “quality” jobs (i.e., jobs offering higher wages and better working conditions) being generated in LDCs, especially for the young. The latter demographic is particularly pivotal in the future of LCDs for the following reasons:

Today, about 60% of the population residing in a LCD is under 25 years of age.  This number is projected reach 1.7 billion by 2050.

The LDC youth population (i.e., aged 15 to 24 years) is expected to increase from 168 million in 2010 to 300 million by 2050.

By 2050, one in four youths (aged 15–24 years) worldwide will live in a LDC.

The LDC working-age population will increase on average by 15.7 million people per year between 2010 and 2050 (projected increases are highest in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, and United Republic of Tanzania).

The expanding number of youths in LDCs will mean a growing labor supply. According to the report, LDC youths typically find work in the informal sector, but often these jobs do not pay reasonable wages, improve skills, or provide job security. More than 70% of youths in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda work for family members or are self-employed. Given the demographic challenges underlined in this report, the LDCs will need to provide the expanding youth population with the necessary skills and education, and make significant efforts to generate a sufficient quantity of quality jobs in the medium term. Read the full 2013 report here.