Los ninis are young people (aged 15-29) that “ni trabaja, ni estudia” (neither work nor study). They have become the focus of much press attention in the past couple of years, often accompanied by the phrase “Mexico’s lost generation”.
This El Universal article cites Education Ministry (SEP) figures that there are more than 7 million ninis in Mexico, 20.9% of the total number in that age group in the country. Apparently, at present, only five states have any specific programs targeting ninis and trying to persuade some of them either to enter the workforce or resume their education. These five states are Chihuahua, Baja California, Tlaxcala, Guerrero and Hidalgo.
The two states with the highest proportion of ninis (over 25% of the age group) are Chiapas and Michoacán, neither of which has any specific program to help them. The states with the smallest proportion of ninis (about 15% of the age-group) are Colima, Quintana Roo and Yucatán.
It is widely held that, in the absence of help, many ninis will have few options other than to turn to antisocial and criminal behavior, connected to drug trafficking, drug gangs, petty crime and the sex trade.
The state programs that are trying to work with ninis are adopting a variety of strategies, from seeking funding to recruit some ninis into local police forces or offering three-years paid service in the military to providing a direct monetary incentive to continue their education or financial incentives to firms that employ ninis. For example, the state of Chihuahua has funded 2,000 jobs, at a salary of 112 pesos (slightly less than 10 dollars) a day, for such socially-responsible tasks as painting homes in marginal parts of Ciudad Juárez or cleaning parks and public spaces in Chihuahua city.
It is far too early to say whether these strategies will ultimately be successful. Finding an appropriate and productive role for Mexico’s millions of ninis is likely to remain one of society’s major challenges for decades to come.
Update (17 September 2011):
Mexico’s Secretariats of Education (SE) and of Labor and Social Welfare have issued a joint rebuttal of the previously published figure of 7 million ninis, which apparently originated in an OECD report, not from SE data as originally reported.
The rebuttal claims that 78% of these ninis are young married women, with children, who dedicate themselves to home-making. Up to 1 million young people are in this situation in the State of Mexico alone, the Secretariats claim. They emphasize that the figures reveal a gender inequality in access to educational and economic opportunities, linked to cultural patterns where many young women still see marriage and motherhood as their preferred or only option.
- NiNi: Mexico’s generation without prospects (Ottawa Citizen)
- 2010: Year of the Nini (The Americas Policy Program)
- Sólo cinco estados, con programas para “ninis” (El Universal)