Job losses

2009-05-07 00:00

In its Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2009, Statistics SA has reported that 2 300 jobs have been lost daily in this country and that KwaZulu-Natal has been the hardest hit of all nine provinces. This is a frightening report not only because of the bald figures conveyed but also because they represent a conservative estimate. There are differing ways of measuring unemployment and some would argue that its levels are higher than those given by Statistics SA.

Whatever the exact truth, the situation is clearly critical. Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel has been at pains to say that the country will be in technical recession only after two successive quarters of negative growth. The thousands who are losing their jobs are not interested in such quibbles. For them recession is a stark practical reality with all its concomitant hardship.

An article in yesterday’s issue of this newspaper drew a close parallel between poverty and mental depression. The Mental Health and Poverty Project at the University of Cape Town has been studying this connection and arguing the case for more access to mental health services in poverty-stricken communities. Such access is currently extremely limited, especially in rural areas. Given the actuality of serious job losses in a society where unemployment has already been at an unacceptably high level, the implications for the physical, mental and emotional health of the nation are serious. So, too, is the likelihood that criminality will be an attractive option in desperate circumstances.

The new governments about to be inaugurated at national and provincial levels face a massive challenge to meet this dire situation with positive efforts to create jobs. Public works programmes on a large scale are one possibility. These are expensive but so too is an expanding provision of social welfare. A job — even a lowly one — has a more humanising influence than dependency on a government hand-out. Meeting the challenges entailed in an anxious time of economic recession will be the most immediate task for the government and other players in this post-election period.

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