Blogbox | COVID-19

Spotting gaps in the 2020 clouds

By - 21.12.2020

Young people offer signs of light amidst the gloom.

(Un)Employment! The economic unsolved mystery that has been dogging youngsters in Kosovo for years now. It is an undeniable challenge that our politicians promise to solve before every election. These promises seem convincing, but little — if anything at all — happens in this direction when they take office. 

The cycle of disappointment continues to repeat itself. Let’s say, “Words without action mean nothing” and stick to this saying when the next elections come. 

In the first part of 2020, our unemployment rate increased to 29.1%, from an already unsustainable 25.9% — youth unemployment stands at nearly 50%. As a consequence of our persistent unemployment problem, you see Kosovo’s youth spending a lot of time in coffee shops. However, going out for a coffee is not merely a way for youngsters in Kosovo to kill time. 

In fact, we have a special relationship with our coffee shops. If you search the internet for advice about a trip to Kosovo, one of the top tips is to join the cozy atmosphere of our cafes. It’s part of our daily routine, a beautiful love story, an unbreakable bond. 

I always try to turn every disaster into an opportunity.

It’s the conversations that take place while catching up over a morning coffee, an afternoon coffee in the neighborhood, and the evening coffee (or beer right after work) eating kikirika (peanuts) with our best friends discussing last night’s political debate or prize fight, rims for our cars, Aunt Selvije, or the cold food served at our friend’s wedding. Gossiping is in our blood, but rarely do you hear anyone talking about anything productive. I know we are better than this.

During the pandemic, the coffee shops closed for months and with them went our escape from reality, our safe closet, our Narnia. 

I always try to turn every disaster into an opportunity, and that is why I started doing research to write this blog, with the aim of suggesting what we could learn from this crisis and how we could better appreciate the world around us.

If we stick to the economic definition of unemployment, it can be considered the difference between labor supply and labor demand, but if we translate it to Albanian it means, “Waste 17 years studying and two years of internship and two years of training and one year waiting for your uncle to find you a job at the government — all this to end up working at the coffee shop.” 

Told you we have a special bond.

The health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted our labor market. Restrictions on movement have caused a drastic decline in business activities on the one hand, while the closure of industries has led to many workers being laid off. 

The degree of economic inactivity and the unemployment rate in Kosovo were high even before the pandemic, in particular among youth, women, and college graduates. In just the first four months of 2020, Kosovo registered over 37,000 unemployed persons

That’s when youngsters realized that they needed to work, as we had been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean.

Without a comprehensive economic recovery plan, the number of unemployed may increase even more in the coming months. This should signal a collective call for action. It’s time for us to catch up.

You see, hear, read one thing, and before you have a second to grasp it, you are flooded by even more information. We are all experiencing multiple stages of panic, paranoia, fear, uncertainty, and disbelief, or even denial. “How could this happen?” or “This could never happen to me!” It is happening to us — all of us — and all of us together. But mostly it is compounding the already uncertain future that young people face today.

Data from the Employment Agency shows that the number of jobseekers increased by a factor of 40 in April alone.

The increase in the unemployment rate opened the eyes of many of our youngsters. Young people in Kosovo started to see unemployment from a different perspective — working in Germany or the U.S. for the summer was gone, Plan B of Aunt Selvije from Switzerland sending money was gone, Dad giving us money to buy luxury brands was gone, and so every plan from A to Zh disappeared. 

And that’s when youngsters realized that they needed to work, as we had been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. 

Every time you opened Facebook, you saw different opportunities to participate in online trainings, work from home, or learn a new skill, and to be honest job portals were full of opportunities. We were forced to be physically distant and avoid all social gatherings, but we found ways to stay connected virtually and make use of our time in lockdown.

COVID-19 has shown us just how fragile our economy and society is. When we raised our glasses on New Year’s Eve, we hoped 2020 would be the year we would get everything we wanted, but now we know that 2020 was the year to appreciate everything we had. 

We will go to coffee shops again. But the conversations we’ll have will not only be about neighborhood gossip.

So let’s appreciate our young population and invest in our youth. As young people open their eyes to the better future for Kosovo they need to be working toward, we must use public policy to provide them with decent and sustainable jobs. Only in this way can we build a resilient state with a just, inclusive, and sustainable economy and society that respects nature and cares for future generations.

In some sense, the pandemic has been an opportunity for us to see how far behind our economy has fallen, and how critically important it is for us to take action to fix this. 

We may have taken going to coffee shops for granted. Now when we have video chats with friends, as unbelievable as it sounds, we refer to going out for drinks as “the good old days” because we don’t know when we will be able to get back to that reality. 

But as a society we are used to rising and falling. I am optimistic we will rise again. 

We will go to coffee shops again. We will catch up with our friends again. But the conversations we’ll have will not only be about neighborhood gossip. 

Looking forward, we will discuss productive topics — keeping our society together, fixing the economy and building back better.

Feature image: K2.0.