Ninis - A Generation that Neither Works, Nor Studies in El Salvador


 (2008 Getty Images)

In various Latin American countries, they call them "ninis" (pronounced nee-nees.) The Spanish word "ni" means "neither" and they are called "neither neithers" because they are young people who "neither work, neither study" at school or university - or in Spanish "Ni trabaja, ni estudia."  This generation in the small Central American country of El Salvador is attracting attention and causing concern.

Costa Rica's State of the Region in Sustainable Human Development Program, in coordination with El Salvador's Studies for the Application of Law Foundation (FESPAD), found that ninis between the ages of 15 and 25, can be either gender, with 40% being female and 60% being male. The total number of ninis in El Salvador is estimated to be 241,000.

Ninis are often perceived as being lazy and ambitionless, but according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) many have tried and failed to find employment or have left poor working conditions. In a country rife with violent gangs who actively recruit, unemployed youth is cause for alarm.

"The poor are the most vulnerable, because they can be linked to unlawful activities," ILO Deputy Director for Central America and the Caribbean, Leonardo Ferreira, told Salvadoran newspaper, El Diario de Hoy earlier this year.

In its Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012 report, the ILO warned that the use of temporary contracts for young workers has nearly doubled since 2008 – this means that more young men and women are being used in positions which may last only months and then they spend the rest of the year unemployed.

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One statistic not present in the report is that of remittances and how they may or may not contribute to the phenomenon of ninis. According to the U.S. Intelligence Agency's World Fact Book, money sent back home to El Salvador from migrant family members working abroad accounted for 17% of El Salvador's gross domestic product in 2011 and these remittances were received by about one third of all households. With steady remittances coming in, it's possible that some see no reason to work.

Various programs have been attempted with little success and other strategies are being considered.  In the meantime, despite the fact that it is traditionally more common culturally in Latin America than in the U.S., some Salvadoran parents wonder what they should do with their older or grown child who is neither working or studying but continues to live at home.

Salvadoran TV show, Ahora Tu TeleRevista, ran a poll of viewers on their Facebook page asking "Do you think it's alright to ask a nini child to leave the house?" The multiple choice options were, "Yes, because how else will they learn to do something with their life?"; "No, because parents have a moral obligation to take care of their children."; and "It depends on the personal family circumstances of the child."

The results of the poll - 27 voted that it depends, 2  voted "no," and 12 voted that "yes," kicking the child out of the home will help them learn to do something with their life.

Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of


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