South Africa’s youth jobless rate leaps to 36.1%

Jun 06, 2014 12:00 AM

With South Africa’s economic prospects rapidly deteriorating, there was more alarming news yesterday that youth unemployment had soared from 32.7 percent to 36.1 percent in the six years from 2008 to 2014.

Statistics SA said the unemployment rate had been consistently more than 20 percentage points higher among the youth – those between the ages of 15 and 34 – than among adults.

The agency said young people accounted for between 52 percent and 64 percent of the working age population, but were underrepresented in employment, accounting for only 42 percent to 49 percent of the working population.

Patrick Craven, the national spokesman for Cosatu, said the latest figures were alarming.

He said youth unemployment should be one of the top priorities of the new government. It had to find both long-term and short-term solutions to the problem.

However, Loane Sharp, a labour economist at Adcorp, said the primary responsibility for high youth unemployment lay with unions and bargaining councils.

He said these gatekeepers raised the entry-level wages of young workers in order to prevent companies from hiring people who could only compete through lower wages, since they had limited skills and no job experience.

“This is a classic method by these organisations to prevent young people from competing with union members, who tend to be older, higher skilled and more experienced,” Sharp said.

He said the complaint by Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu about labour laws was an interesting development because small and medium-sized enterprises accounted for 90.9 percent of total employment. JSE-listed companies accounted for only 9.1 percent of total employment.

The Stats SA data show that many young people have never worked and the incidence of long-term unemployment among the youth is sky-high.

The problem of long-term unemployment is particularly acute in Mpumalanga and Free State – the provinces in which the incidence of general long-term unemployment has increased the most since 2008.

This year, close to two thirds of unemployed young people had been jobless for a year or longer, while young people accounted for 90 percent of those who were unemployed and had never worked before.

Pali Lehohla, the head of Stats SA, said the data suggested that, in common with countries across the globe, compared with adults, youth faced particular challenges in gaining employment in the domestic labour market.

He said between 2008 and this year, their level of education attainment had improved, but their labour market prospects had deteriorated. “This in part reflects structural weaknesses in the labour market due to a mismatch between skills and available jobs.”

Lehohla said young women were in a particularly precarious situation, with an unemployment rate more than 10 percentage points higher than that of young men.

“This situation remained the same over the period from 2008 to 2014, and while some young people have opted to continue with their education, hoping to improve their future job prospects and their labour market situation, others have become increasingly discouraged,” he said.

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