Another society would have been up in arms over unemployment, says expert

According to Statistics South Africa, the country’s unemployment rate has risen to 27.6% at the end of the first quarter of the year, the highest level since the third quarter of 2017.

There are now 6.2 million South Africans who are actively looking for a job but can’t find one.

Read: Unemployment at 27.6%: 'It's sad people are starting to give up the job hunt'

To unpack what the unemployment rate, Eusebius McKaiser chats to Institute for Economic Justice policy director Neil Coleman, economist Dr Thabi Leoka and Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute director Isobel Frye.

It is important to understand how the figures are made up and there is that saying that says: 'Lies, damn lies in statistics.'

Isobel Frye, Director - Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute

Frye says there are two definitions that are used globally by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and they are the narrow and expended definitions.

The narrow definition of 27.6% excludes people who are discouraged work seekers and not seeking employment. So beyond 27.6%, the expanded definition including those who have given up is 38%.

Isobel Frye, Director - Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute

She says if one looks at that, in terms of total numbers of the 6.2 million people who are formally unemployed in the narrow definition, South Africa has an additional 15.4 million people who are of working age who are not considered in that statistic.

Also read: 6.2 million South Africans are actively looking for a job but can’t find one

Three million people have officially given up looking for work and an additional 12.7 million people are called other. Other is defined as neither employed nor unemployed and yet they are of working age, they have dependents, they have family and they don't have access to any form of social security.

Isobel Frye, Director - Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute

Frye adds that when we are looking for solutions to curb the scourge of unemployment, we need to know the numbers.

We have 16.2 million people who are officially employed, including the informal sector, domestic workers and agriculture, but we have 20.6 million people who are not employed.

Isobel Frye, Director - Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute

Leoka says these stats, as explained by Frye, show the enormous amounts of people that are not employed.

How do you expect to grow an economy when you have 40% of your working population that is not working and not contributing to productivity. This is a clear indication of why the South African economy has struggled to grow over the past 25 years.

Dr Thabi Leoka, Economist

It is disappointing that we have not figured a way of ensuring that this number is reduced.

Dr Thabi Leoka, Economist

Coleman says the frightening thing is that South Africa is facing a national emergency and another society would have been up in arms.

What we are talking about is a massive waste of human resources in our country. If you look at the figures for unemployed youth, 31% of them are graduates. The notion that by training and education will deal with the unemployment problem is incorrect.

Neil Coleman, Policy director - Institute for Economic Justice

He says young people from 15 to 24 years shouldn't be the primary target for employment.

They should be in education and training, that confronts the question of how we absorb that particular age group.

Neil Coleman, Policy director - Institute for Economic Justice

For the unemployed as a whole, another frightening statistic is that the long-term unemployed, those who are looking for employment, 6.2 million have been unemployed for more than a year.

Neil Coleman, Policy director - Institute for Economic Justice

Frye says the policies that have been adopted to curb unemployment by the government do not appear to be rooted in any form of empirical evidence.

Listen below to this interesting conversation:


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