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Unemployment rate in sub-Sahara Africa forecast to be 7.2% in 2017

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployment rate is forecast to stand at 7.2 per cent in 2017, unchanged from 2016, according to the latest World Employment Social Outlook (WESO) trends reports 2017 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The report says while the unemployment rate remains stable, the number of unemployed is expected to increase from 28 million in 2016 to 29 million in 2017 due to the region’s strong labour force growth.

The regional unemployment rate does not convey the considerable cross-country heterogeneity. In particular, it masks persistently high unemployment in South Africa, where the unemployment rate, which stood at over 25.9 per cent in 2016, is expected to continue to climb, to reach more than 26 per cent by 2018, it said.

In the context of sub-Saharan Africa, however, poor-quality employment – rather than unemployment – remains the main labour market challenge. This problem is compounded by rapid population growth, specifically growth of the working-age population.

For example, an additional 12.6 million youth in the region will enter the labour force over the next four years. As such, the region risks any gains from the potential “demographic dividend” unless sufficient productive opportunities are provided for young people.

Across most of sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of productive opportunities for youth and adults alike means that 247 million people were in vulnerable employment in 2016, equivalent to around 68 per cent of all those with jobs, it noted.

While a marginal decrease in the rate of vulnerable employment is anticipated over the next two years, due to growth in the working-age population, the number of people in vulnerable forms of employment is expected to increase by 14.6 million.

The outlook is particularly challenging for women, who are more likely to be in vulnerable employment, largely as contributing family workers. The share of female workers categorized as contributing family workers, at 30.6 per cent, is more than twice the rate for their male counterparts, at 14.0 per cent, with women additionally over-represented in informal non-agricultural employment, the report further noted.

The report adds that, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is at its lowest in over two decades, a sharp contrast to the annual average of nearly 5 per cent over the past ten years.

This downturn has largely been due to the effects of low commodity prices on resource-intensive countries, such as Angola, Nigeria and South Africa (with oil-exporting countries faring particularly poorly), the report explains.

By Pamela Ofori-Boateng

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