Young, cheap and out of control

2012-06-09 15:20

They’re young and ambitious and keen to get their lives off the ground. But South Africa’s restless army of jobless youth with few opportunities is growing more and more desperate by the day.

With massive youth unemployment, the future is particularly bleak for millions of young South Africans for whom economic liberation remains a pipe dream.

From Durban and Port St John’s to Port Elizabeth, Wesselton and Polokwane, the picture is the same. Capable young people finish school, college or university only to find themselves thrust onto the margins of society unless they have money or political capital behind them.

According to Statistics SA, unemployment grew to 25.2% in the first quarter of the year, driven in part by heavy job losses in the manufacturing and construction sectors, but more significantly by the massive influx of new and largely unskilled entrants to the labour market, according to its latest Labour Force Survey.

However, the expanded unemployment rate, which includes those who have given up and simply stopped looking for work, rose from 35.4% in the last quarter of 2011 to 36.6% during the first three months of 2012.

The spike in the jobless rate reflects 162 000 lost jobs and the entry of 466 000 new jobseekers into the market.

Early this year the SA Institute of Race Relations revealed that a staggering 51% of South African youth is unemployed and that out of every four jobless people, three are under the age of 35.

The statistics also revealed that the longer young people stay unemployed, the more they become unemployable.

National treasury proposed a youth wage subsidy in an attempt a scheme to incentivise companies to hire young people at the cost of government. But Cosatu opposed the move, saying companies would use it cynically to the detriment of existing skilled workers. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has described youth unemployment in South Africa as a “catastrophe”.

An OECD report released at the end of March reveals that, in the midst of the Eurozone crisis, youth unemployment figures have risen dramatically in middle and high income countries. An average of 17,1% was reported across the OECD’s 34 member states, which include countries in Europe, as well as the United States, Australia, Chile, Britain and Mexico.

Both Greece and Spain reported youth unemployment levels of more than 50%, and the UK 21,9%. The European Union as a whole reported youth unemployment at 22,6%. Patrick Craven, spokesperson for Cosatu which opposes Treasury’s proposals for a R5 billion youth wage subsidy, says that between the fourth quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 an additional 282 000 more people became unemployed. “Given that on average every worker supports five dependants, this figure means that 1 410 000 additional people have been plunged into a life of poverty and misery in just three months.” Economist and political commentator Daniel Silke believes job creation is being hampered by “policy inertia” and economic uncertainty due to infighting in the ANC and its alliance partners. “Society is failing and alienating an entire generation of young people who have expected better lives because of our transition to democracy,’’ he said.

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