How flexible is the South African labour market in the short and long run?

Dieter von Fintel, University of Stellenbosch on 31 August 2015
Reads 22,289

The inflexibility of the labour market is commonly used as a scapegoat to explain high unemployment. Yet new evidence shows that only in specific contexts (unionized workers in the short run) does wage rigidity restrain the ability of the labour market to absorb workers. In the long run, wages are much more flexible and structural factors explain more of the unemployment puzzle. The policy debate on unemployment and wage flexibility needs to take these subtleties into account.

How the old age pension is helping young people from rural areas find jobs

Cally Ardington, University of Cape Town on 30 July 2014
Reads 16,959

It is important to know whether a social grant such as the old age pension eases financial constraints in rural areas, thereby allowing young men to migrate to urban areas for work – or whether these grants encourage idleness and dependency. This study finds no evidence of the latter. Instead, for young rural males there is an increase in their chances of migrating and finding work when a member of the household starts receiving the pension. Notably, these effects are only present for young men with at least a matric.

What caused the increase in unemployment in the late 1990s? Were education policies partly responsible?

Rulof Burger, University of Stellenbosch on 17 September 2013
Reads 17,114

In the late 1990s the Department of Education restricted the re-enrolment of over-aged learners and the number of times underperforming learners could repeat a grade. This was intended to reduce the number of learners in the school system, but may have contributed to a sudden increase in measured unemployment. Of the 2.3 million increase in the number of unemployed between 1997 and 2003, up to 900 000 may be due to unintended effects of these policies which brought hidden (youth) unemployment into the open.

How do the non-searching unemployed feel about their situation? On the definition of unemployment

Neil Lloyd, SALDRU, University of Cape Town on 25 June 2013
Reads 18,508

New evidence suggests that non-searching unemployed people are significantly less satisfied with their lives than people who are not economically active. Indeed, the non-searching unemployed have hit rock bottom. Assuming that people do not freely choose an unsatisfactory state of living, a case is made that the non-searching unemployed – or ‘discouraged workers’ – are involuntarily unemployed and should be included in the definition and measurement of the labour force. Consequently, a case is made for the adoption of the broad measure of unemployment.

How high is graduate unemployment in South Africa? A much-needed update

Hendrik van Broekhuizen, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University on 12 May 2013
Reads 74,871

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.

Reducing unemployment: Waiting for high growth? Waiting for Godot?

Frederick C.v.N Fourie, University of the Free State on 12 March 2013
Reads 42,618

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 unemployed in South Africa: Why are so many not counted?

Dorrit Posel, University of KwaZulu-Natal on 26 February 2013
Reads 42,132

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.

The original criticisms of the Adcorp Employment Index (February 2012)

Andrew Kerr, University of Cape Town on 20 February 2013
Reads 10,707

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

Servaas van der Berg, Stellenbosch University on 12 February 2013
Reads 91,686

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.

The unemployment debate is too fragmented to address the problem

Frederick C.v.N Fourie, University of the Free State on 18 November 2012
Reads 13,553

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.