Latest survey reveals unemployment crisis facing the country

University graduates who make up an already overcrowded population of youths unemployed in the country. [Photo by Peter Muthomi/Standard]

According to a survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), seven million Kenyans are unemployed.

Out of these, 1.4 million have been desperately looking for work.

The rest have given up on job hunting, with some opting to go back for further studies.

The survey, released yesterday, paints a grim picture of the country’s unemployment levels, while shattering the 40 per cent unemployment rate myth.

According to the survey, up to 19.5 million Kenyans are active in the labour force, majority of them in low-cadre, poor-paying jobs.

Shattering myth

Still, this puts Kenya’s unemployment rate at 7.4 per cent, a significant departure from a high of 40 per cent that has been bandied around

In 2016, there were about 25 million Kenyans in the working-age bracket of between 15 and 64 years. Out of these, 78 per cent were economically active.

Over half of the country’s working-age population has primary school level of education.

The working-age population is expected to increase to 28.5 million by 2020.

About 4.2 million working-age Kenyans were either in college or secondary school, and not active in rolling the wheel of the economy.

The report shows that 5.6 million working-age Kenyans were economically inactive. 

“The main two reasons of inactivity were school attendance and family responsibilities, accounting for 73.8 per cent and 13.1 per cent respectively,” read the report.

“Considering the prime age of 25 to 54 years, family responsibility and sickness or injury were the two main reasons for inactivity,” it added.

The new survey also paints a grim picture of growing youth unemployment, with a huge chunk of the population aged between 20 and 24 years not engaged in any work or business.

Nine in every 10 unemployed Kenyans are 35 years and below.

“The largest unemployment rate was recorded in the age cohort 20–24 at 19.2 per cent,” read the report.

Youth unemployment has been described as a ticking bomb, with frustrated young men and women susceptible to drugs, prostitution, or even being lured into terrorism.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is banking on the manufacturing sector for job-creation.

The sector is one of the pillars of Uhuru’s Big Four agenda. The other pillars are universal healthcare, food security, and low-cost housing.

However, a poor economy has seen companies shed jobs in the past five years even as the economy has averaged a growth of five per cent.

Since January 2016, more than 20 companies have either folded and shipped out or simply downsized, leaving thousands jobless.

The situation worsened last year when the economy slowed down due to an extended electioneering period, reduced credit uptake by the private sector, and a crippling drought.

The 2015/16 Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey showed that even for the many Kenyans who were employed, their skills were not fully being utilised, with graduates increasingly taking jobs that could easily be done by Form Four leavers.

The survey indicated that 3.7 million or 20.4 per cent of the employed persons in the working-age population were under-employed, meaning they were available to work for more hours but were not given the opportunity.

Those mostly underemployed were aged between 15 and 19 years. Their under-employment rate stood at 55.4 per cent.

Defining unemployment

However, the figures from KNBS were praised for challenging the long-help perception that the country’s unemployment rate was approaching 40 per cent.

“There are metrics and rules of defining unemployment which have been set by the International Labour Organisation and other international bodies. The numbers that we have in terms of unemployment are people who are willing, they are able, and they are actively looking for a job,” said the Treasury principal secretary, Dr Julius Muia.

Employment rate stands at 77.4 per cent, with those in the age bracket enjoying nearly full employment at 96.2 per cent.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich attributed the improvement of the employment rate from 72.6 per cent in 2005/06 when the last survey was done to 77.4 per cent to various Government programmes.

“The significant improvement in the living standards of majority of Kenyans is attributable to the Government’s investments in infrastructure and the social sector,” he said.

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