In spite of considerable efforts to implement sound macroeconomic and open trade policies, by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the economy –and the labor market—in Nicaragua show little change. There has been no structural change either in production or employment, and productivity has stagnated, leading to underperforming GDP and employment growth relative to the Latin American average.
This note aims to provide a detailed overview of the evolution of the labor market in Nicaragua in the last 10 years, by taking into account the complex nature of employment, and the role of the stock of human capital and of social policies to improve opportunities for the most vulnerable and reduce frictions in the labor market. The analysis relies on the last three living standards measurement surveys (EMNV 2001, 2005 and 2009), the first three 2010 labor force surveys (Encuesta Continua), Central Bank statistics as well as a series of administrative data.
The main findings of the analysis are:
- Similar to its growth performance, employment has shown modest but positive growth throughout the decade, closely tracking the growth trend of the working-age population;
- Productivity and real earnings have stagnated, self-employment (with lower average earnings) has grown, and at the same time, unemployment for educated youth is around 30%, three times higher than average youth unemployment and four times higher than general unemployment;
- The overall pace of accumulation of human capital in Nicaragua has been slow and with significant heterogeneity—for instance, among the 25-39 age group 80% has only primary education or less, and this is even higher in rural areas, while 9% has at least some tertiary education, which is close to Costa Rica and 3 percentage points behind Panama. The labor market indicators for educated workers suggest that the resources invested in higher education are producing a large number of graduates that are not being efficiently utilized by the local labor market
- So far, the Government has devoted considerable resources to strengthen access to primary education, and to provide training for workers in the formal sector, with some efforts to improve the productivity of the self-employed. On the other hand, there has been no focus yet on improving access to job opportunities for skilled workers.