“Please Give Me a Job”: State of Unemployment in Kenya Before COVID-19

Simon Gitau | 5th June 2020

Job Search
“Please Give Me a Job”: State of Unemployment in Kenya Before COVID-19

“Please Give Me a Job”: State of Unemployment in Kenya Before COVID-19

Simon Gitau | 5th June 2020

Job Search

"It is true you have GDP numbers but you can’t eat GDP. At the end of the day, what is needed is specific income. That is what anybody else wants plus jobs"

These are the words of our very own Central Bank Governor Dr. Patrick Njoroge.

Let’s forget about the kisses of betrayal happening in the political circles today and focus on the betrayal that hurts the most: the broken promise of CREATION OF JOBS. Every new government comes in promising the most vulnerable group – the youth – that it’s going to create a certain number of jobs in their term of service. Has this promise ever been fulfilled?

Unemployment in the Kenyan Context

The unemployment rate of a country refers to the share of people who want to work but cannot find jobs. This includes workers who have lost jobs and are searching for new ones [frictional or search unemployment], workers whose jobs ended due to an economic downturn [cyclical unemployment], and workers for whom there are no jobs because the labor supply in their industry is larger than the demand [structural unemployment].

In Kenya, more and more workers switch to the services sector. This is often a result of urbanization, but any structural shift in the economy’s composition can lead to this unemployment. Now we have an additional enemy in the mix – COVID-19. A perfect scapegoat I can say.

Before COVID-19 happened, approximately 9 million individuals were expected to enter the already bloated labor force in a decade between 2015 and 2025, in a country whose unemployment rate stood at 9.3 per cent last year (according to Kenya Economic Survey 2019).

The youth are the hardest hit by joblessness compared to their counterparts above 35, with all these multiple layoffs and general freezing of hiring by companies that want to consolidate their already hard-to-get profits. About 91 percent of the 10.862 million Kenyans aged 35 years and above are in employment, according to the recently announced Census results, which point to a growing dependency burden.

The Jobs created so far

In 2018, approximately 760,000 jobs were created while the economy grew by 6.3 percent, thus outperforming the global and regional standards. Unfortunately, 90 percent of these new jobs were in the poorly-paid informal sector. Official data shows that around 78,000 new formal jobs were created in 2018 compared to 114,000 in 2017, job cuts and net employment not included according to Economic Survey 2019 data.

On the other hand, more than 560,000 university enrolments were recorded last year, worsening the plight of school leavers. The drop in new jobs and stagnant wages raises queries over equitable distribution of the growth dividend among Kenyans considering the economic growth expansion witnessed recently.

According to CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge, Kenya’s economy is faulty since it is growing in terms of infrastructure but not adding jobs or increasing income. While Kenya’s economy expanded by 6.3 percent in 2018 from 4.8 percent in 2017, private sector activity — which translates to jobs and higher pays -- has remained muted.

What does the future hold? Do we have any concrete plans to salvage the situation? Do our elected leaders understand what’s really on the ground? Do we have our priorities right as a country? In a country with about 360 billionaires, do we understand that our wealth is actually measured by what the lowest common man earns?







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