The price of finding decent employment

Entrepreneurship is the only solution to Nicaragua’s poor job market


The problem of unemployment in Nicaragua has reached the point where the instinct for survival is much more important to people than their human dignity.

We live in an era when it is better to earn something and survive than it is to have nothing and suffer from poverty. In these times, choosing a job to have is a luxury, since jobs are so scarce. People must work in whatever job they can find, and do the best they can, without consideration to what the job pays, whether or not it puts their mental or physical health at risk, or what the sacrifice is to their family. It’s just about earning a miserable salary, because that’s better than earning nothing at all.

What has become of us? Where is the value of human life? Does this crisis have a solution? Or are its roots so deep that we are destined to live this way for a long time?

The youth of Nicaragua, despite being the majority of the population, don’t have enough work experience by virtue of the fact that we’re young; as a consequence, many young people are not being hired for decent jobs. And if they do find work, it is usually in exchange for favors.

Employees in Nicaragua—in both the public and private sectors—are usually hired on the basis of friendship or personal relations, and not so much based on professional merit or competition. That’s why many institutions don’t work properly or simply fall under the weight of their own incompetence. When enterprises fail, it further delays the nation’s economic progress and produces rising unemployment.

Companies do not have enough incentives to hire young people, even those with university degrees. The vast majority of the youth between the ages of 16 and 35 are unemployed. Many of those who are lucky enough to be employed have a job that doesn’t pay well, or doesn’t give them the opportunity to grow within the institution or company. Many other young people are working in jobs unrelated to what they studied because there are no jobs available in their areas of expertise. There seem to be very few people who work in jobs that they like and earn a decent wage doing so.

The alternative to working in a dead-end job is equally grim. Dignified young people who choose not to pay that price have to endure unemployed for a long time, which produces an increasing amount of economic and psychological anguish.

Unfortunately, there are many who give in and accept the stingy alms they are offered in order to prevent starvation, or to avoid a life of crime. The country is filled with involuntarily delinquent youth who threaten the security of all the Nicaraguans; it’s a danger that increases every day.

But there is a solution to those with means. It consists of creating their own business, with imagination and solidarity and even with few resources. Entrepreneurship is not only an alternative to survive in a micro-enterprise, but will also improve the quality of life of youth.

By triggering individual initiative and entrepreneurial character, we will inevitably create new employment. By creating their own businesses, young people will become productive citizens and free themselves of the humiliation of working for humiliating alms doled out by those who continue to feast, fatten their bank accounts, and spend wastefully. By working for ourselves, the youth of Nicaragua will become the social and economic solution that, little by little, will pull our dear country back from the edge of the black hole.

Cristiana Guevara-Mena is a lawyer and young blogger living in Managua. A version of this article ran on the author’s blog, Ensayos Politicos, a bilingual blog on national politics and youth issues.

  • Joe Diaz

    Ok, but how do they get the capital?

  • jimmycoffee

    Christiana I agree, however the problems faced by Nicaraguans both younger and older in the sphere of employment are also exacerbated by the fact that it is in part, a market economy. The market determines that Nicaragua is a cheap labour market, with a largely under-educated labour force and therefore attracts the kind of business owners who are interested only in paying the “going” rate of poverty wages. I think that systems of micro-credit are the only way forward to truly help finance the accumulation of capital needed to start small businesses. Financial responsibility and an unwillingness to be part of the dependency culture must also be high priorities.

  • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

    Hello, I am the author of this peice. You can check out my blog at

  • jimmycoffee

    Thanks Christiana, keep up the great work.

  • polodiva6

    Great article and great ideas. But like Joe Diaz mentioned where is the capital being obtained from? I have a lot of friends in Managua who have opted to start their own businesses but how many bakeries, party supplies can Nicaragua have?

  • Max H Williams

    Christiana, thanks for your well written article on unemployment in Nicaragua. When I first came to know Nicaragua back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the employment situation was the same as the one that you describe. There were young men in their thirties who had never held jobs. That was under Somoza; therefore, we have to eliminate party affiliation as a cause. The Government of Nicaragua has never seriously focussed on developing the fullest potential of its resources: hydroelectric power, solar power, tropical fruit production, fishing, timber, and mineral/metal extraction. The foreigners who did attempt to do so used cheap labor and took the proceeds out of Nicaragua without making lasting developments in the country. The current boom in tourism only creates a limited and unsustainable service industry. Thus, I suggest that the answer to chronic unemployment in Nicaragua lies with honest and farsighted government policy vis a vis capitalism and labor. Sincerely, Max H. Williams

  • Gabriela

    May I begin with… I liked your article… and feel very strongly about this topic. As a young adult (32), I have started 3 businesses in the past 7 years… each has been started with less than US$400 a piece. 1 failed and 2 still growing strong. The issue at hand is that small business must begin SMALL and plan to grow. I am not sure where our generation began thinking that a small business starts fully equipped and completely set up. My personal view is that more young adults need to find business niche fulfilling a specific need in their area and go for it. Think of your own life… what services or products do you wish you had the option to employ or purcahse and GO FOR IT… no pain no gain… it’s all about work, creativity and Low costs… Difficultuies of starting a business are present everywhere… we need to stop lamenting our “Current Situation” or “the past of our country” and take the reigns to help ourselves… not depend on someone else to consistently help us… we have to figure it out and get things done. That’s how I see it.

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      May I ask you, what kind of businesses did you invest in?

  • Ken

    I’m all for entrepreneurship, but in addition to the problem of finding capital (as one commenter mentioned) there is also the difficulty of finding customers.

    My sense is that Nicas have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, born of an economy that hasn’t produced enough jobs for 50 years, but it is manifest mostly in hustling.

    While lack of capital may partly explain this, lack of customers strikes me as another explanation. When half your potential customer base is too poor to buy your product or service, setting up shop is pretty difficult. You either have to target the few customers who have money or provide a super basic product or service.

    This all gets over my head fast, but it seems to me that Nicaragua’s foremost lack is big business, the kind that hires lots of people and pays good wages, or at least medium-size business. Only with these economic anchors can start-up businesses flourish. And solving this problem is a challenge of attracting capital.

    I mean, I guess I wonder how wealthy Nicas can become selling fruit to each other, or running niche business-service companies. Someone has to bring in the big bucks (and employ lots of people), don’t they?

    Of course, I strongly favor entrepreneurship for lots of reasons, and applaud those who do it. I just suspect that focusing on it misses the elephant in the room.

  • David Cardin

    Being a employeer for multiples of decades it has always boiled down for me does the worker want to work or just get paid? Work ethics, dependability and a sense of pride to do what’s needed and wanted without having to constantly oversee his or her work will do wonders for anyone wanting to get a job, keep it and get ahead.
    My dad brought me up with the dictum that if I was going to dig ditches I better be the best ditch digger that got hired. The rest will take care of itself with that in mind. It did!
    I have found the opposite mostly true, with a “manana” syndrome attached: If you expect it “now” when it’s needed or wanted, it won’t happen and don’t get pissed if it isn’t, that’s the way it is here. Or another favorite: “I said I wanted a job, that didn’t mean I want to work”.
    It’s amazing, but not, that every employee we have had that has risen in the company with better wages and responsiblility all started at the bottom and “worked” their way up, by-passing most of their “co-workers” in the process by just being dependable, know what is needed and wanted and just doing it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that most people that actually do get ahead usually do it better and faster, have less “problems” and excuses.
    I’ve had jobs not being filled because potential workers say they don’t know how they would get to work or home from Leon to the Beach, 13 miles away. I’m waiting for someone who will find a way, “Hey, you want a job, come get it, MAKE IT HAPPEN”!
    I’ll give one quick example. UCON has a big college of Hospitality, Tourism and Hotel Management. Many graduates in the nearly 8 years we’ve been open as a hotel “on the beach”. We have never had one under-grad or graduate ever ask for a job. Culinary school, bartending diploma, anything that someone studied to become a professional in his/her chosen field/industry? NONE. Why? They don’t try. Beating down the bushes, knocking on every door? Nope, MANANA!
    Like a lot of things in life, if you really want it and it’s available, you will find a way and manana won’t do. Like true entreprenueurs, they find a way, a good worker is the same.

  • Kahel

    As usual, bloggers can be eloquent in describing a grim reality but ultimately fail to deliver and propose solutions to get around. Nothing new here. Don´t get me wrong, first part was great but the lackluster solutions almost border on a childish and retarded dimention. As many have pointed out, no capital equals no progress and no ventures… you can´t show up at a bank, micro or large, to ask for a loan if you can´t back it up. Please, it´s common sense.

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  • Tami


    I see lots of artistic talent in Nicaragua- there is beautiful art- murals, pottery, pretty cake decorations and such. I feel like it is art for art’s sake, which is lovely in a way, but is there any way to channel that talent into commerce?

    I guess the first thing that comes to mind would be art classes of various kinds.

    For example, maybe alongside the cute bakeries, how about trying a few cake decorating schools?

    Then, take the art idea and let it mutate into other things, such as art therapy. Start an art therapy school to train social workers or psychologists. This can serve for children who have been neglected or suffered trauma and abuse. Maybe this is being done already, I don’t know.

    Or for fun and recreation, have artists draw cartoon faces for passers-by at the malls?

    How about beauty salons that do nail art?

    I don’t know if any of this is do-able, but I see lots of artistic talent that could be channeled into money and commerce.

    My point is…use your strengths!