Recently, a friend and I were talking about SA’s mining sector. An interesting part of the discussion was employment and its treacherous friend, unemployment. This, in turn, lead me to read through the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter of this year. I came across a few interesting numbers.
The figures in the report were as follows:
(Est. SA population: 50.5)
Population (15-64 years): 33
Labour force: 18
Not economically active: 15
Employed : 13.5
(Note: StasSA has indicated that numbers do not necessarily add up to applicable totals, due to rounding; est. SA population taken from mid-year estimates for 2011)
Having had the opportunity to play around with figures and ratios, I found a few interesting results. Firstly, the official unemployment rate is reported as 24.9%. How, then, is it calculated? Quite simply, the official number of unemployed people (4.5 million) is divided by the labour force (18 million), but what does this figure tell us? Very little, if anything, especially since the definition for unemployment is so convoluted.
The problem with statistics is that they are meant to be a numerical reflection of reality, but they seldom are; labour statistics clearly are not. ‘Unemployment,’ as in all other countries, has been defined in such a way that the official rate appears to be minimal. Let us consider, therefore, the ratio of people who are actually working, relative to those who are of the working age. The resulting percentage is about 40.1%, meaning that the remaining 59.9%, if you choose to define unemployment as not being employed, are unemployed. Clearly, this figure far exceeds the official one. One could also consider the number of unemployed and ‘economically inactive’ (presumably unemployed as well) relative to the entire population to ‘soften the blow,’ but this figure is still a substantial 38.6%.
Consider, also, the ratio of working people relative to the rest of the population, who are dependents owing to age (children and the elderly) or socio-economic conditions. Evidently, only 26.7% of the entire population is employed, which implies that the remaining 73.3% are dependent on the former in one way or the other. This ratio, more than any other, gives a good sense of the likely number of citizens who are actually productive and end up providing for others. Whether this is good or bad is up for interpretation; these are just the numbers.
Irrespective of the problems with these numbers, definitions and calculations, with which you may or may not agree, there remains the biggest problem of all: the statisticians. After all, StatsSA is a ‘national,’ that is, a government service. Since it would logically be in the government’s best interest to have favourable labour statistics, one may draw the conclusion that a conflict of interest arises when the government is responsible for compiling the statistics upon which so many others rely.
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