The coronavirus pandemic and extended lockdowns caused 6.4 million Colombians to lose their jobs. Many of the formally employed were able to work from home, others accepted paid leave of absence or reduced hours. The national government released some US$3.7 billion in pandemic relief measures, including cash transfers to 4.5 million beneficiaries of the state’s welfare programs.
Additional cash transfers were also extended to 2.6 million vulnerable households, 300,000 young people, and 1.6 million poor elderly citizens. Colombia’s pandemic relief packages, amounted in 2020 to 2% of the nation’s GDP, without taking into account the closure of tourism and aviation sector, many small and medium-size companies (PYMES), as well as the economic impact on independent workers, freelancers and artists.
With a litany of decrees and biosecurity protocols, the national government began the arduous task of gradual economic reopening, beginning the manufacturing, transportation and construction sectors. By September 2020, almost every key industry had been authorized to reopen, including cinemas, casinos, amusement parks, gyms, bars and restaurants.
Colombia’s COVID-19 response accelerated tax devolutions and extended new credit lines through Bancoldex (Colombia’s development bank), Finagro (agricultural fund), and Findeter (Territorial Development Finance Bank), keeping some 2.1 million above the poverty line. According to World Bank, “thanks to the continuation of emergency transfers and the economic recovery (…) around 18.9 million people remained poor in 2021, against 17.5 million before the pandemic.”
Income inequality, fiscal debt and rampant inflation are just some of the challenges facing Colombia despite having recovered over the last 20 months 4.7 million jobs.
With official unemployment for 2021 at 13.7%, the country needs to recover 1.2 million more jobs to reach pre-pandemic numbers. Even though Colombia’s unemployment numbers are above the regional average of 9.6%, strong economic growth for 2022 could mitigate the economic fall-out of the pandemic and high levels of informality.
“Without a coherent set of measures to generate jobs, the impacts of the crisis will be prolonged and will leave deep social and labour scars in Latin America and the Caribbean,” states Roxana Maurizio of the International Labor Organization (ILO). ILO team of specialists tasked with preparing this report. “The most intense impact among women in the region is associated with the greater presence of women in economic sectors strongly affected by the crisis such as hotels and restaurants, and in other service activities and the household sector,” added Maurizio.
In Colombia, one out of every three women (28.9%) is considered unemployed.
Fighting unemployment and combating endemic corruption are pillars of a campaign that appear to unite the agendas of the country’s presidential candidates, regardless of their political affiliation. “Colombia, and the world, needs young people. That is why we have to work to bring them opportunities and train them so that they can get a good job and earn money,” tweeted right-wing candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga of Centro Democrático. “In Colombia there is fear, but we have to face it with more technology, better investigation and prevention: we must prevent vulnerable youth from becoming criminals,” remarked independent Sergio Fajardo, and words similar to Team Colombia’s Federico Guttieréz: “From the Presidency, we are going to remove thousands of young people from illegality throughout the country. Corruption is bleeding this country. We will confront it with authority.”
For the left-wing progressive candidate of Colombia Humana, Gustavo Petro, the solution to tackling rising unemployment is more protectionism by raising import tariffs on agricultural products, industrialized foods, clothes and leather manufacturing. “If we raise tariffs, more things will be done in Colombia, thus increasing employment in these four sectors,” he added. Statement that contrasts sharply with Conservative Party leader David Barguil. “A free market empowers the citizen, encourages private investment, defends private property and generates an investment climate that allows us generate this growth throughout the regions.”