Warwick Economics Summit, 5 February 2021


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 5 February 2021

Dear future Leaders,

I would like to thank the organisers – the Warwick University and the students – for inviting me to participate in the Warwick Economic Summit. Tapping into the minds of our youth and gaining your perspectives and experiences is paramount to tackling the challenges that we face today.

We meet at a critical moment. In 2020, the world witnessed what happens when risks become reality. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide have now topped 103 million as mutations multiply, with more than 2.2 million deaths. Millions more face the harsh economic consequences of the pandemic, with the world’s most vulnerable bearing the brunt of this crisis.
The global economy is full of uncertainties. Although the OECD’s latest projections show that the global economy could rebound, growing at 4.2 % in 2021, few countries are likely to recover to their pre-crisis level by the end of the year.

The crisis has also had a tremendous impact on youth. You have felt this impact - in education, in finding jobs, in social distancing, in the closure of cafes and bars, and in travelling restrictions. Although the latest OECD data on youth unemployment shows a fall from the peak 19% in April last year to 14.3% in November, COVID-19 is already leaving a scarring effect on our youth.

Furthermore, the crisis is exacerbating pre-existing economic and group-based inequalities between and within countries. You must all be facing important challenges, but you are still relatively fortunate. While in high-income countries, 65% of students were taught online, in low-income countries only 18% were able to maintain their online studies.

As we assess the long-lasting impact of the pandemic, we also worry about the consequences on mental health. According to the OECD Survey on COVID and Youth, the top concern for the 15-to 24-year-olds was the crisis’ impact on their mental health. This will hurt our economy. Even before the crisis, mental disorders was going to cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030. Therefore, the recovery cannot be just economic. It must also be systemic, one which places us on a sustainable, resilient and inclusive path.

In many countries governments are taking concrete actions to invest in young people. For example, the reinforced European “Youth guarantees” or the UK’s reinforced hardship funding for local and international students can be a lifeline as young people are particularly vulnerable. This will provide a good framework to ensure no jobless young person goes without support through this crisis, as we know that youth are over-represented in temporary jobs. Across the OECD, youth are approximately 3 times as likely as older workers to hold a temporary job. All EU Member States, have for example, committed to ensuring all young people under the age of 30 receive a timely offer of employment, training or continued education. But more needs to be done and we must not repeat the mistakes of the global financial crisis when it took a whole decade for the OECD youth unemployment rate to return to levels seen in 2008.

To counter increasing uncertainties, distrust and populism, we are currently witnessing a wave of deliberative democracy, bringing young people into this process.

At the OECD we are launching a global effort to provide support and to bring young people’s perspectives into the policy debates on jobs and learning. I invite all of you to visit the OECD’s online platform, “I am the Future of Work”, and make your voices heard through an online survey.

I also invite you to apply to join the new OECD youth advisory board called “YouthWise” so you can join us in developing a new OECD Action Plan for Youth. This plan will provide a guide for countries to improve support for young people, as well as help them during this crisis and beyond.

Dear Friends,

There are issues which you will be grappling with long after the current generation of policymakers is gone – climate change and national debt, among others.I want to therefore call on you to act, to participate, to tell your Leaders and to tell us what is and what is not working; and this Summit is an ideal opportunity to do this.

The COVID-19 crisis has reminded us all that our economies and societies continuously evolve, change and self-organise based on the interactions of billions of individuals. Max Plank once said, “science advances one funeral at a time.” To keep our ideas fresh, new and innovative, we need to look to the next generation of economists. We need to promote an approach to economics that is much more interdisciplinary, more sensitive, one which helps us address the challenges that we all face, ensuring a better future for all.

You are that future.

Thank you.


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