In an article published 25 May 2016, Abel Myburgh stated that in 2040, it is predicted that one in five young people in the world, will be from Africa. This is a figure, which leaders of African nations should be cognisant of as they will need to implement suitable economic policies to ensure that these youths can effectively be integrated into the economy as productive citizens. Currently, South Africa is experiencing a movement of ‘youth in revolt’ which has seen issues of colonialism (Rhodes must Fall) and free education (Fees must Fall) being taken on by youthful members of society. The exact reasons why these movements have begun within short periods of time of each other may not be known but a definite contributor to these movements would have been poor economic performance and a particularly gloomy economic situation for those between the ages of 15 and 34 years of age.
In the first quarter of 2016, South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 26.7%. On the back of low economic growth, rising inflation and the possibility of a ratings downgrade to ‘junk’ investment status, this figure has seen a number of already vulnerable South African’s placed in even further economic difficulty. The group most affected by these economic conditions are the youth 15 to 34 years old. These make up the youngest two tiers of Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) age groups when analysing employment data. These two age groups constitute 54.5% (Q1 2016) of South Africa’s population of working age and are therefore an integral part of the South African economy. Unfortunately, these two age groups have the highest unemployment rates in South Africa. Between Q1 in 2008 and Q1 in 2016, the unemployment rate of South African’s 15 – 24 years old rose from 46.3% to 54.5%. Similarly, the South African’s aged 25 – 34 years old have seen their unemployment rate increase from 26.3% to 31.2% as seen in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Unemployment by Age Group 2008 – 2016
These figures are high compared to the rest of South African age groups since most employers require experience in order to appoint a worker. The unfortunate reality is that without work experience, one will struggle to find a job which makes finding your first job more tenuous. These increases in the unemployment rate for these age groups have been characterised by a period in which the number of people between the ages of 15 – 24 has increased by 6%, while the number of people between the ages of 25 – 34 increased by 13% (between 2008 and 2016). Figure 2 illustrates how the number of South Africans between these ages has increased between 2008 and 2016.
Figure 2: Population of Working Age by Age Group (units 1000s)
The information conveyed in Figures 1 and 2 suggest that South Africa is struggling to absorb new entrants into the labour market as evidenced by the increasing unemployment rates and increased population of working age of these two groups. The number of people employed between the ages of 15 -24 has declined from 1 644 000 people to 1 255 000, while the number of people between the age of 25 – 34 that are employed has marginally increased from 4 817 000 to 4 939 000 (2.54% increase) between 2008 and 2016.
Figure 3: Number Employed by Age Group (unit 1000s)
Figures 1, 2 and 3 paint a somewhat gloomy picture of the economy for young people, although a large portion of the blame can be placed on current world economic conditions. It would be naïve however not to place a portion of the blame on our own economy. In times such as these, it is not only the duty of the government and public sectors to create jobs but the private sector as well. If youths are struggling to find entry level jobs that will provide them with experience relevant to the career they wish to pursue, then greater efforts should be made to provide these opportunities. In tough economic times, it can become very easy for businesses to want to focus on survival and longevity but one should not lose sight of the socio-economic factors as well.
If more emphasis is placed on creating entry level jobs, not only will the young workforce become more skilful by gaining experience, they will also be taking part in the economy – stimulating consumption which is positive for the economy as a whole. Perhaps the source of the recent youth unrest is a feeling of being economically left out in the cold for too long and a cry to be more included? Focusing more on youth development will stand South Africa in good stead in the future and hopefully alleviate the current tough economic conditions young people face in South Africa.
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