SA youth bear the brunt of recession through job losses

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File: Despite the slight decrease in unemployment, about 15.4 million South Africans are still without formal work.

PRETORIA - South Africa’s young people were worse off than working age adults in all measures of unemployment, with the unemployment rate among the 15-34 year-old bracket standing at 36,9%, more than twice that of adults at 17%.

And young people were bearing the brunt of the recession through jobs losses, with 507,000 jobs lost among young people in 2010, compared to 312,000 among adults. These findings were contained in a new report, National and Provincial Labour Market: Youth, released by Statistics South Africa on Monday.

The report covered the eight-year period from the beginning of 2008 to the first quarter of this year. The recession was officially recognised as having started in September 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Its effects were thus measured from 2009 onwards and the report found that young people were worse off in all key measures.

The report showed that there were 19,7 million people of a working age population between the ages of 15 to 34 years of age. Of these 6,2 million were employed while 3,6 million were unemployed. These figures comprised a youth labour force of 9,9 million people and yielded an unemployment rate of 36,9% using the narrow definition which does not include discouraged work seekers. The balance of the youth working age population of 9, 8 million was made up of discouraged work seekers, students, housewives and those who were unemployed by choice.

The unemployment rate among adults of 35 to 64 years stood at 17%.

Young people also lagged adults on the key measures of labour participation and labour absorption rate. Labour participation, which measures the proportion of working age population who were active in the labour market either by working or looking for work stood at 50,2% for youth and 69% for adults. For young people, this included those who were pursuing education but also included young people who neither worked nor studied.

The absorption rate, which measures the proportion of the working age population that was employed, stood at 31,7% for young people, and 57,3% for adults.

Young people suffered job losses in four of the seven years since the beginning of 2009, with the 507,000 jobs lost in 2010 being the worst. Young people saw gains of 150,000 in 2012, 170,000 in 2014 and, in what will offer hope, 239,000 in the first quarter of 2015. The net result was 221, 000 fewer young people employed over the period between 2009 and 2015.

Adults suffered job losses in only one of the seven years, when 312,000 jobs were shed in 2010, and actually had job gains in all the other years. Overall there were 1,2 million more employed adults over the same period.

The report found that the Northern Cape had the highest youth unemployment rate at 45,1%, followed by the Eastern Cape at 41%. The Western Cape had the lowest at 29,9%, Gauteng’s youth unemployment rate was 39,8%, while KwaZulu-Natal, the country’s second largest economy, had a youth unemployment rate of 33,4%.

The findings are likely to increase calls for special interventions to boost youth unemployment, which currently include a tax incentive scheme to hire young people as well as learnerships and training programmes.