Published on July 14, 2021

Youth and Informal work: their voices through data

Head of Solutions Mapping - UNDP Acceleration Laboratory in Ecuador

In the current health crisis, young people face the pressing issue of precarious labor and informality. In this uncertain time, many questions arise. For example, what are the inequalities between rural and urban youth? How does the sexual division of labor manifest itself in young people in a situation of informality? What role does care work play in the precariousness of women and access to paid employment? These are some of the research questions raised by 23 youth organizations in the Data School, edition 'Youth Informality,' organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The main objective of this initiative was to improve the understanding of informality through the use of data. To deepen their knowledge of this issue, the participants spent nine weeks learning about data processing, management, and analysis.

The School of Data is an initiative developed within the inter-agency joint program framework, "My Future is Now (Expanding the social protection system for young men and women in the informal economy)." Through this Joint Programme, ILO, UNDP,  and UN Women seek to include the young population (18-29 years), who are in labor informality, to the social protection system and promote their access to decent work in Quito, Guayaquil, Loja, and Machala.

What type of analyses were conducted?

Some of the young participants were interested in investigating issues relevant to their reality. Twenty-six and women who participated in the School of Data conducted five research projects.

Analysis of informal work in rural versus urban areas in Ecuador

The first project focused on revealing the differences between rural and urban areas in the labor market for young people. The analysis was centered on depicting the differences in income level and access to social security. The former analysis reflects that there is a correlation between geographical location and the type of economic activity. For example, the participants concluded that agricultural activities are more common in rural areas, and the pay is lower than in commercial activities in the city. Furthermore, those who work in rural areas are not covered by social security, so they do not have access to this right; namely, men have less coverage than women, 64% versus 84%, respectively—an unexpected finding for the team.

"While growing up, we dream very high, we think we will go far, and we spend long hours imagining a promising future in a dream job. However, I was born far from the city, very far away, in a small town, and grew up around hard jobs like farming and cattle raising (...)." Source: Tandaza et al., 2020 (Story map).

Analysis of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on young entrepreneurs

The second project developed by the participants, focuses on the impact of the health crisis on youth entrepreneurship, analyzing their employment status and interest in affiliation to the Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS). During the pandemic, more than half of the businesses closed. The most affected economic activities were those related to professional services and groceries sales, and the salary reduction ranged from 21 to 50%. Regarding the social security culture of young entrepreneurs, 44% said that they were interested in being part of the system. However, they were not clear about the services and benefits they would receive.

"The COVID-19 pandemic was an incentive for entrepreneurship, whether out of necessity or opportunity. Currently, there are more active businesses by young women entrepreneurs." Source: Amaya et al., 2020 (Story Map)

Dynamics of the care economy and income gap among young people, during the pandemic

The third project: explored the issue of the care economy and income inequality. Care work is almost exclusively assigned to women. Before the pandemic, 74% of women were engaged in an economic activity related to caregiving, while only 24% of men were. During the pandemic, 89% of women who lost their jobs sought jobs in the service sector. Before the pandemic, 24% of men earned less than $200 per month, while 39% of women earned that amount.

"Cooking, cleaning, housekeeping, caring for children, the elderly or the sick, are all care activities generally performed by women." Source: Quiñonez et al, 2020 (Story map).

Analysis of informal work and labour exploitation among young people in Guayaquil, Quito, Machala, and Loja: before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

The fourth project analyzes the work conditions of young people, emphasizing on the circumstances in which they suffer from labor exploitation. The level of income for this group is discouraging. Even before the pandemic, 73% of young people earned less than $400 per month. As a result of the pandemic, 22% of young people had their wages reduced by 51% to 75%. This situation is even more difficult for those who have children and/or have dependents. Fifty-nine percent did not have any source of income during the first three months of the pandemic.

"Most young people do not have access to decent jobs and social protection benefits:" daycare (0.4%), severance pay (1.7%), maternity leave (1.8%), vacation (3.9%), and sick leave (4.5%)."  Source: Vallejo et al, 2020  (Story Map)

Analysis of young people’s precarious work conditions in the city of Quito

Finally, and linked to the previous topic, the fifth project addresses labor precariousness in the city of Quito. Very few young workers receive a social benefit for their work in this city, and their salary is below the minimum wage (41% earn less than $400 per month). Those young people who have a lower level of education are more affected, as they work in industries that have been hit the hardest by the sanitary crisis. Furthermore, out of those young people working in the food industry, 29% have not completed high school. In general, the participants found that 50% of young people do not have a fixed monthly income, as it varies from week to week. Finally, the team concluded that gender differences are also evident: "there are 106 men compared to only 53 women who suffered from work reduction hours from 21 to 40 hours.” Source: Quiñonez et al, 2020 (Story Map).

This collaborative web platform is open to research and stories related to youth informality with the objective to address this problem through different voices and points of view. It’s also a learning platform where you will find learning materials related to data analysis and data processing.


The data stories can be found in:

If you have conducted research of any kind on youth labor issues and would like to publish your findings on the website, please contact: ana.grijalva [at]

The results and views expressed on the blog entries do not represent an official position of the UN agencies or the SDG Fund.