Collapse and recovery: how the COVID-19 pandemic eroded human capital and what to do about it
Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an enormous shock to mortality, economies, and daily life. But what has received insufficient attention is the impact of the pandemic on the accumulation of human capital—the health, education, and skills—of young people. How large was the setback, and how far are we still from a recovery? Collapse and Recovery estimates the impacts of the pandemic on the human capital of young children, school-age children, and youth and discusses the urgent actions needed to reverse the damage. It shows that there was a collapse of human capital and that, unless that collapse is remedied, it is a time bomb for countries. Specifically, the report documents alarming declines in cognitive and social-emotional development among young children, which could translate into a 25 percent reduction in their earnings as adults. It finds that 1 billion children in low- and middle-income countries missed at least one year of in-person schooling. And despite enormous efforts in remote learning, children did not learn during the unprecedentedly long school closures, which could reduce future lifetime earnings around the world by US$21 trillion. The report quantifies the dramatic drops in employment and skills among youth that resulted from the pandemic as well as the substantial increase in the number of youth neither employed nor enrolled in education or training. In all of these age groups, the impacts of the pandemic were consistently worse for children from poorer backgrounds.