By - Kiraithe Daniel Mutemi
According to the International Standards, unemployment can be summarized as the inability of an illegible worker to be working in the reference period although such a person was actively seeking for a job in the last 30 days. These standards are recognized by world bodies such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations. This definition can be misleading to citizens considering some people may have worked for a day in the reference period and not actively seeking employment for the last 30 days. Such a person, in reality, is still unemployed but s/he does not fit in the definition of unemployed.
Governments have been using such definitions to imply they are tackling the menace of unemployment by publishing figures that do not reflect the reality on the ground. For the reference period of a year, for example, a person who worked in either informal or formal sector the last month of the year is considered as employed that year. Recently, Kenya’s employment statics on employment was questioned by the International Monetary Fund on similar grounds.
Unemployment among the youth remains a challenge and may require a paradigm shift in policy formulation and implementation to tackle it. It is estimated that 22 percent of youth (18-25 years) are not in employment, education or training (“UN World Economic Situation And Prospects: April 2019 Briefing, No. 125”, 2019). Essentially, almost 1 in every four young people is not engaged in anything to grow their career in the future. This trend may explain why exclusion in social and economic activities among the youth even in the future.
Although employment among the adult has been growing uninterruptedly, youth employment has seen a contraction of 15 percent since the 2008 financial crisis. In 2018, global youth unemployment rates stood at 11.8 percent, but the situation is dire in African economies.
Europe recorded a declining trend in general unemployment, although youth unemployment is still high. Steady job creation has helped the EU to maintain a favorable labor market environment throughout the year. Active intervention policies characterized by a large chunk of spending channeled to activities aimed at job activation such as employment matching were utilized.
Youth in Africa is a blessing and a curse in equal measures. The youngest population in the world is found on the African continent. Some countries in this continent have a median population age of as low as 18 years. Examples of these countries include Angola, Uganda, and Mozambique. Nearly 10-12 million people in Africa are entering the job market every year, presenting a substantial economic benefit and a challenge at the same time.
African economies are faced by a threat of low job opportunity creation and significant higher population growth. Skills mismatch to job requirement among university graduates has been pointed out as a contributor to low employment rates among the youth. However, there is no shortage of qualified individuals in any sector since even the well trained, experienced are either underemployed or not employed at all.
There is a wide gap in addressing youth unemployment as witnessed by the northern and southern regions. North African countries seem to be leading the talk with countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria recording an average of 25 percent unemployment rates compared to West Africa countries like Nigeria with more than 35 percent which grew from 15 percent in 2015. In South Africa, a 40 percent youth unemployment rate was recorded. Sub-Sahara Africa has the highest youth working poverty rates in the world at about 70 percent. This situation points to severe underemployment or total unemployment time bomb ticking for Africa.
A report by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in April 2019 indicated the economy created 840,000 new jobs in 2018. Only 17 percent of these jobs formed the formal sector, while 83 percent were from the informal sector. Agriculture, education, and manufacturing were the most significant contributors to these jobs creation. The economy also grew by 6.3 percent according to the report as compared to 6.2 for Uganda and 6.6 for Tanzania.
However, the last three years have witnessed companies close doors in Kenya and send home thousands of employees. Three more companies have announced such a painful move sending panic to the Kenyan workers and heartbreaking jobseekers and graduates leaving learning institutions.
Majority of citizens argues that they can neither feel the economic growth nor the jobs created in the economy. Are these jobs too few to be felt? Are unemployment rates as low as reported? Is Africa reproducing more than it should? A lot of rhetoric surrounds the social, political, and economic life we are experiencing.
It is essential to understand unemployment as a real challenge not only to the emerging economies but also to the global economy. Serious economic policies geared towards stimulating the economy, and finally creating jobs must be adopted. Neglect of some key sectors by the government through under-funding them and less emphasis on their contribution such as agriculture leaves many young people unattractive to them hence generating fewer jobs than they should do. A deliberate, creative, and explicit policy to tackle unemployment is not an option but a responsibility of all stakeholders who care for the future of the working.
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