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Economic Interest

Investing in young people is smart economics and crucial for effective development. Countries that produce a skilled, healthy and productive workforce are better positioned in the global economy. They are more likely to achieve economic prosperity, political stability and social well-being. Since capacities built during youth largely determine adult outcomes, effective investments in young people provide important returns to the individual, the community and to society as a whole.

With many competing demands for scarce funds, countries often do not fully recognize how critical young people are to their national economies, societies and democracies – both today and in the future – and consequently make too few public investments in programmes to harness their productive resources.

Countries should make youth part of national investment strategies and provide sufficient resources for their involvement. The accumulation of human and social capital must start at a young age, as the brain develops rapidly during early childhood and adolescence. Moreover, early investment in cognitive and non-cognitive skills and health capabilities lead to enhanced investment effectiveness later on in life. As a result, building a strong foundation, through investing in programmes tailored to children and youth, advances socio-economic development.

"You have to take ownership and leadership of tomorrow. For that to be possible, you have to strengthen your capacity and widen your vision as a global citizen." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – remarks Sto the 2010 Young Atlanticist Summit, 20 November 2010

Conversely, without adequate opportunity and investment, youth contribute to costly problems that plague each world region, such as diseases, violence and loss of productivity. This triggers substantial economic, social, and political costs resulting from negative outcomes, such as early school drop-out, poor labour market entry, risky sexual behaviours, substance abuse, crime and violence. The overall damage often amounts to a percentage of a country’s gross domestic product per year, sometimes reaching into billions of dollars.

For example, in Latin America and the Caribbean, a range of negative youth behaviours reduces economic growth by up to 2 per cent annually — not reflecting the unquantifiable costs, such as psychological distress, poorer health, less civic participation or intergenerational effects.

Youngsters having a picnic at the Legacy, an international summer community for youths 9-18, near Bedford.

Youngsters having a picnic at the Legacy, an international summer community for youths 9-18, near Bedford.

"One of the biggest problems facing young people like us is the lack of government support, including a lack of commitment to fighting crime and drugs," said Keidin, 21, from Costa Rica, while Perla Primavera Gonzalez, 23, from Mexico City complained about the limited access to quality education in Mexico. "The sad truth is that many young people drop out of school or college to get jobs and make money to survive," concluded Eric Zurita, 22, a recent information technology graduate. Luckily that is changing, albeit slowly.

Total World Bank funding for youth-related programs in 2010 reached $2.3 billion. These projects span many areas and stages of life where support is critical, including early childhood programs, basic education and job training initiatives.

A new multi-sector approach, supporting simultaneous interventions in key areas, such as health, labour and education, is further advancing the youth agenda. In addition, the Bank has also proposed a gender-centric approach to risk issues - "Although women continue to be disadvantaged in a number of indicators, boys' underachievement in education and their participation as perpetrators and victims of violent crime require a new gender paradigm that includes male issues," explains World Bank Senior Economist Maria Beatriz Orlando.