THE BLOG
07/19/2013 08:15 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

Meeting Goals to End Extreme Poverty Is Possible -- But Only When We Focus on Jobs, Jobs and Jobs

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Eradicating extreme poverty across the globe is a very hot topic these days. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently declared that reaching that goal by 2030 is "within our grasp." U.S. President Obama also took up the theme on his trip to Africa this past month. Just yesterday, the European Commission made its own commitment to pool resources to stamp out poverty worldwide. And coming this September, the issue will again take center stage at the United Nation's General Assembly.

I'm thrilled that lifting up the 1.2 billion people now living on less than $1.25 per day is squarely on leaders' minds, particularly at a time when governments and international institutions are preparing to set new global targets for 2030, after the completion of the world's first-ever Millennium Development Goals. But the critical question we should all be asking is: how do we get there?

While I agree that critical investments can and must be made in many areas -- from supporting economic growth and fighting climate change to securing food supplies and eradicating childhood deaths -- I strongly believe these efforts alone will ultimately fall short. We simply cannot eradicate extreme poverty without embracing broad-based and inclusive economic growth that directly focuses on youth and jobs. Here's why.

Today we have the largest demographic cohort -- some call it the "youth bulge" -- in the history of the planet. These 1.2 billion 15- to 24-year-olds are ready or nearly ready for entry into the current labor market. In 2030, these same youth will be in their 30s. For any new MDGs, or what some are calling Sustainable Development Goals, to be reached by that time, these young people must be employed in decent jobs, earning regular paychecks, or heading up a small business -- and in greater numbers than in previous generations.

Put another way, for anyone who is scratching out an existence in a farming community or urban slum, sustainable development equals having a job, especially a job in the private sector that can develop into a longer-term career. A job means predictable income that provides food, shelter, and basic health care for a family. Similarly, starting a small and successful business can provide savings, allow young entrepreneurs to employ other community members, and create a conduit for taxes. A tax base becomes the means for any economy to afford basic safety net services that can go a long way toward avoiding extreme poverty -- or mitigating it during economic downturns.

So let's look into the future. Today's late teens and early 20-year-olds must be employed and into their careers by 2030. And today's babies and toddlers--also part of the global youth bulge -- will be in their late teens and aspiring to enter the job market in 2030. They too must be more successful than previous generations. Gainfully employed, together they become the "youth dividend" that can drive economic growth and stability for the next 40 years. However, we know that if those young people cannot find work, they are not likely to be employed, or have an income, for the rest of their lives. And that means they will be unable to climb out of extreme poverty. One only needs to look at the deepening frustrations of today's young people who can't find decent work and the growing unrest and instability in areas like the Middle East, parts of Africa, and OECD countries such as Spain, to know what happens when dreams for a better life are dashed.

Jobs and broad-based, inclusive economic growth -- where those at the bottom of the economic ladder can earn their way into the working class and become tax payers and consumers -- is the only way to eradicate extreme poverty. Our collective future depends on our getting this one right.