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The frequently reported ‘crisis in graduate unemployment’ in South Africa is a fallacy based on questionable research. Not only is graduate unemployment low at less than 6%, but it also compares well with rates in developed countries. The large expansion of black graduate numbers has not significantly exacerbated unemployment amongst graduates. Contrary to popular perception, such graduates – many from ‘formerly disadvantaged’ universities – have been snapped up by the private sector. Black graduates are, however, still more likely to be unemployed than white graduates.
The middle class is a hot topic in media and policy circles. But how should the middle class be defined, particularly in a country with high levels of inequality? Individuals and households which fall in the actual middle of the income distribution in South Africa have a standard of living well below a ‘middle-class lifestyle’. Defining the middle class on the basis of the ‘actual middle’ versus ‘relative affluence’ provides vastly different pictures. This necessitates great care in using these conceptions, especially in policy design.
It is estimated that less than half of the present main budget deficit of 5.7% is explained by cyclical factors. The remainder reflects a non-cyclical, structural component of the deficit. The increase in the structural budget deficit since 2008 may constrain the ability of government to sustain its present revenue and expenditure policies. An in-depth understanding of the structural component of the fiscal position as opposed to its cyclical element is important for sustainable long-term government financing and planning.
Many economists have argued that the government’s fiscal stance in the recent budget is verging on the risky. This article argues that the fiscal stance is both correct and prudent. In addition, the article puts the budget in a broader developmental context, highlighting its contribution to long-term growth and development and to tackling poverty and inequality.
In trying to reduce unemployment in South Africa, the pursuit of higher economic growth is the single most agreed-upon policy strategy. The consensus on this ‘obvious solution’ may blind us to the fact that economic growth, though important, may only be half of the solution. Attempts to fine-tune and turbo-boost the formal-economy ‘engine of growth’ to absorb more labour are fundamentally constrained. Economic policy makers must look at other options for generating employment and self-employment for unemployed people.
The official rate of unemployment includes only the unemployed who are actively searching for work. However, findings from new data challenge this practice. The ‘searching unemployed’ are no more likely to find employment than the ‘non-searching unemployed’. This casts doubt on the idea that non-searchers are not committed to finding work. Furthermore, many people find jobs through social networks – but this job-finding strategy is not adequately recognised as ‘searching for work’ in official statistical surveys. StatsSA should reconsider how they count the ‘officially’ unemployed.
Adcorp’s estimated unemployment rate is so low that it disposes of the unemployment crisis. But Adcorp uses a crude currency-demand method to estimate the size of the unrecorded economy, despite researchers’ strong criticism of this method. To estimate informal sector employment, Adcorp mixes up definitions of informal employment and the unrecorded economy and guesses at the labour intensity of the unrecorded economy. They also guess at the number of illegal immigrants. Moreover, Adcorp’s estimates have no statistical precision. Its figures are neither reliable nor credible.
Adcorp’s employment and unemployment figures are not taken seriously by researchers – yet they can do much harm
Adcorp’s unemployment figures are derived from weak research and is repeated too often by gullible journalists. Based on a flawed methodology and dubious assumptions, the Adcorp figures imply that only about a million people are unemployed and that the total unemployment rate is 5%. At the same time, Adcorp has published an inflated figure for graduate unemployment (600 000) – a grave inconsistency. Whilst serious researchers will not touch Adcorp data, it can harm decision-making by policymakers and potential university students and their parents.
A job-search subsidy has been proposed as a measure to help people find employment. At least three criteria need to be met to create new jobs for those who receive the subsidy. First, it needs to be used only to search for jobs or to remove the financial constraints that prevent people from searching for jobs; second, firms need to recruit through the channels which subsidy holders actually use to seek employment; and third, the relative cost of labour needs to fall.
Any growth strategy for South Africa should include elements that address inequality explicitly. This article identifies reforms that are likely to support growth in the long term and proposes a policy framework to ensure a more equitable distribution of the dividends of economic growth. These relate to high-quality education for the poor, progressive taxation, a social safety net, anti-monopoly policies and labour market reforms to promote the employment of low-skilled people.
Average wages in agriculture have risen substantially in all provinces since the introduction of minimum wages in 2003 - the gap between the actual and the minimum wage has declined significantly. Compliance has been highest in the Western Cape and Gauteng, where average agricultural wages were close to or above the minimum wage even before it was introduced and wages have continued to rise thereafter. Although enforcement appears to have had a limited impact due in part to limited penalties, more effective inspection would be an important way to improve compliance.
Firm-level data for the period 2005 to 2011 indicate that job creation and destruction rates in South Africa are only slightly lower than among OECD countries. Around 10% of existing jobs are destroyed each year, while the number of new jobs is around 9.5% of existing employment. Larger firms have higher rates of net job creation than small firms. The relatively high reallocation of employment across firms suggests lower rigidities in the South African labour market than is sometimes believed.
Small and medium-sized firms hold the potential to absorb most of the unemployed in South Africa. In this the NDP may be correct. However, the NDP may not be correct in arguing that exports can be the main catalyst of the growth the country needs to address poverty and employment. Several factors hinder such a strategy. A more domestically-focused policy aimed at production (and services) for local consumption might bear more fruit.
The tragic events at Marikana raise the question whether the events and subsequent developments are indicative of a fundamental change in labour market relations and wage bargaining relationships in South Africa - and whether such patterns of behaviour are likely to spread beyond the mining sector. We identify five contributing factors that are specific to the mining sector. These relate to labour relations, public services and migrant labour. Since these factors do not characterise the rest of the economy, we conclude that a spreading of Marikana-type bargaining is unlikely.
The debate on unemployment is fragmented into at least three sub-discourses, i.e. those of macroeconomists, labour economists and poverty analysts. This results in inconclusive analyses and narrow, flawed proposals to address the problem. This fragmentation feeds into the policy field. Sustainable and consistent remedies for unemployment and poverty will require an integrated analysis that covers the formal sector, the informal economy and survivalist activities – and especially linkages and barriers between these segments.
In spite of policy statements prioritising labour-absorbing growth, de facto policy support has favoured heavy industry and been damaging for employment. Industrial policy should be less concerned with ‘beneficiation’ and technological upgrading and more concerned with promoting economy-wide efficiency. In the context of massive unemployment, this means tilting the playing field towards labour-absorbing growth to mobilise the huge potential of an under-employed and poorly-skilled workforce.
How structural inequality limits employment and self-employment in poor areas (or: Why South Africa’s informal sector is so small)
Given South Africa’s high levels of unemployment, the relatively small size of the micro-enterprise sector is a conundrum. This article argues that structural inequality is the reason for this – in particular, inequality in the structure of the economy, the legacies of spatial inequality and the continued inequalities in human development. Their combined effect is to limit the scope for poor people to escape poverty via self-employment. This explains the limited extent and small range of informal employment.
Government’s vision for the development of informal business is that, with the right support, these enterprises will achieve formal status, contribute to economic growth and create jobs. However, few informal businesses produce goods for which the formal economy has any a demand. Moreover, informal producers are structurally prevented from accessing the formal economy without the facilitation of intermediaries. This implies the need for an enabling institutional and legal environment which (a) supports intermediaries that assist informal producers to access formal markets and (b) provides incentives for formal-sector retailers to enter into contracts with intermediaries on more equitable terms. BEE is a possible way to provide such incentives.
The South African government continues to pursue efforts to 'migrate' informal enterprises to the formal sector. This article examines the impact of regulations and law enforcement on the 'lived' economy of informal micro-entrepreneurs. Spatial analysis shows how the scope and distribution of informal economic activities are directly affected by regulation, land use planning and other controls. Such controls that effectively disallow informality are poor-unfriendly and harm livelihoods, self-employment and employment.
As part of perpetual policy experimentation and search for that elusive ‘silver bullet’ to deal with unemployment, the South African government recently introduced the Jobs Fund and continues to mull over the idea of youth wage subsidies – vehemently opposed by trade unions. The success of these programs is highly dependent on effective design and administration. This article evaluates program design features against a number of factors.