Employment and jobs
We analyse the emphasis in informal-sector and informal-economy policy, highlighting who runs the risk of being missed. We then interrogate assumptions on which policy objectives are based – notably that the informal sector acts as a ‘shock absorber’ in times of recession and, given the emphasis on the township economy, the spatial dimensions of informal-sector employment. We argue that policy makers should pay attention to harmful regulations, the infrastructure needed and where informal activities fit in value chains.
The manufacturing sector has performed poorly and employment has fallen sharply. Policy has tended to push manufacturing onto a more capital-intensive trajectory. Paradoxically, South Africa’s actual (or ‘revealed’) comparative advantage has come to be in relatively capital-intensive products. In contrast, labour-intensive sub-sectors have performed poorly. In a context of high structural unemployment, industrial policy should focus more on supporting employment-intensive growth by subsidising labour and training rather than capital investment, electricity and infrastructure for capital-intensive firms.
This extract from a new REDI3x3 book proposes a constructive way to approach the possible ‘formalisation’ of the informal sector. A common impulse is to reduce formalisation to regulating and taxing informal enterprises – two blunt instruments that can be destructive. Formalisation must rather be seen as a means to aid the quest for better livelihoods for more people and stronger, more self-standing informal enterprises. Smart formalisation can be pursued with a ‘formalisation menu’.
This extract from a new REDI3x3 book outlines an appropriate and ‘smart’ policy approach to enable enterprises in the informal sector. Such policies need to be differentiated and nuanced, recognising that both one-person or multi-person enterprises are situated on a developmental spectrum from embryonic to mature states, some ‘survivalist’ and others ‘growth-oriented’, with different aspirations, entrepreneurial aptitudes, degrees of development, complexity and capacity – and different needs and challenges. Factors for good policy design are identified.
In this extract from a new REDI3x3 book, the employment-creating behaviour of informal enterprises is analysed – in particular, enterprises with employees. Almost half of those working in the informal sector work in such multi-person firms – which provide paid work to about 850 000 people (owner-operators plus paid employees). There is a growing employment orientation and employment intensity. Jobs are created via new-firm entry as well as employment expansion – also by one-person enterprises. Entrant firms are vulnerable, though.
Creating jobs, reducing poverty I: Why the informal sector should be taken seriously and enabled properly
In the first extract from a new REDI3x3 book on the role of the informal sector in job creation and poverty reduction, a compact picture of the size, texture and impact of the sector is provided. One in every six South Africans who work, work in the informal sector. Several policy-relevant features are highlighted, such as industry, spatial and gender dimensions. This provides the backdrop for the second extract on the employment-creating performance of the informal sector.
Unemployment research typically inquires how to generate more jobs and how to keep workers working. Researchers often probe the reservation wage level (which appears to balance the interests of employees and employers). Qualitative research findings suggest that wages may be less significant factors in work-related decisions than the nature of interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Both employees and employers emphasise the importance of the quality of relationships, though employers and employees highlight different factors.
Labour productivity grew substantially in the first twenty years of democracy, but is this unequivocally good? Much of the increase has been driven by changes at the firm level. Smaller firms’ average labour productivity increased more than that of larger firms. This seems to reflect changes in the composition of firms and jobs – smaller firms and low-productivity jobs appear to be vanishing. This is worrying because these are the type of jobs we need to reduce unemployment.
While technology is making capital cheaper, policies like the national minimum wage will make labour more expensive. What does this mean for the choices firms make in terms of labour and capital inputs? This research shows that higher prices for labour will result in lower demand for labour, making job creation more difficult. Low-skilled and high-skilled labour are substitutes – higher wages for low-skilled workers will encourage firms to employ more high-skilled workers and become more skill intensive.
The challenge of youth unemployment is shaped by factors in both the labour market and the education system, alongside intricate community, household and individual-level issues. This complex mixture may make it a seemingly intractable problem. While long-term solutions need to be discussed and implemented, certain options warrant attention in the short to medium term. If these were efficiently addressed, we could begin to break down the barriers that prevent entry into the labour market for at least some young people.