With Rising Unemployment, More Needs Doing in Macroeconomic Policy

The country’s worsening unemployment statistics in the third quarter stresses the need for a holistic review of current policies geared towards job creation, writes James Emejo

The country’s long-awaited unemployment data was eventually released to the disappointment of many Nigerians.

Volume one of the labour statistics, released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), showed unemployment rate rose to 23.1 percent in the third quarter of the year (Q3,2018) compared to 18.8 percent recorded in Q3 2017.

The report stated that the total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked too few hours (under 20 hours a week), increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018.

Also, the economically active or working age population (15 – 64 years of age) also increased from 111.1 million in Q3, 2017 to 115.5million in Q3, 2018.

The labour force, which is the number of people, who are able and willing to work increased rose to 90.5million in Q3, 2018 from 75.94 million in Q3 2015, 80.66 million in Q3 2016 and 85.1 million in Q3,2017, data revealed.

According to the statistical agency, the total number of people in part-time employment (or underemployment), however, rose to 18.21 million in Q3 2018 from 13.20 million in Q3 2015, 11.19 million in Q3 2016 and 18.02 million in Q3 2017.

The total number of people in full-time employment (at least 40 hours a week) increased from 51.1 million in Q3 2017 to 51.3 million in Q3, 2018, it added.

The NBS, however, explained:”Of the 20.9 million persons classified as unemployed as at Q3 2018, 11.1 million did some form of work, but for too few hours a week (under 20 hours) to be officially classified as employed while 9.7 million did absolutely nothing.

“Of the 9.7 million unemployed that did absolutely nothing as at Q3 2018, 90.1 per cent of them or 8.77 million were reported to be unemployed and doing nothing because they were first time job seekers and have never worked before.

“On the other hand, 9.9million or 0.9 per cent of the 9.7 million that were unemployed and doing nothing at all reported they were unemployed and did nothing at all because they were previously employed, but lost their jobs at some point in the past, which is why they were unemployed.”

According to the NBS:” Of the 9.7 million that were unemployed and did nothing at all, 35.0 per cent or 3.4 million have been unemployed and did nothing at all for less than a year, 17.2 per cent or 1.6 million for a year, 15.7 per cent or 1.5 million had been unemployed and did nothing for 2 years, and the remaining 32.1 per cent or 3.1 million unemployed persons had been unemployed doing nothing for 3 and above years.”

However, the report had already generated some controversies even before its released last week following a media report, which had alleged that the presidency had directed the Statistical General of the Federation and Chief Executive, National Bureau of Statistics, Dr. Yemi Kale, to doctor the report in order to favour the present administration.

The online report had alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari had during a recent meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), ordered Kale to change the high unemployment statistics and reflect the rising rate of employment in the agriculture sector.

However, Kale had in an interview with THISDAY refuted the report that the presidency had asked him to falsify the country’s unemployment/underemployment data.

He said the media report was unfounded, adding that he would have resigned if asked to tinker with the data in order to favour the APC government.

“You know this isn’t true. I would have resigned if it was. Nobody asked me to do such,” he said.

The SGF had earlier announced via his twitter account that the third quarter labour statistics, volume one, which captures unemployment and underemployment statistics would be released last week.

The much-anticipated jobs report is bound to heat up the political space especially at a period when the general election is approaching as political opponents tend to politicise whatever results it turns out to be in order to score a political point as campaign intensifies.

Nonetheless, the report had quoted the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, while on a television programme as saying that during a recent meeting with the FEC, Kale had admitted that the NBS was only focusing on the creation of white collar jobs, while ignoring positive developments in the agriculture and informal sectors of the economy.

According to Shehu as mentioned in the controversial report, the President subsequently told the SGF “ to go and admit his error to members of the public and make appropriate changes.”

The report alleged that some 12 million jobs created in the agricultural sector particularly in rice production in recent times, may not have been captured by the statistical agency in its final computation.

But providing further clarification on the matter, the NBS CEO through his twitter handle @sgyemikale, maintained that neither he nor the NBS ever admitted that its employment and unemployment statistics had failed to accommodate some sectors of the economy.

He said its study had always been all- encompassing of all sectors of the economy.

Tweeting in response to a question on the issue, Kale added:”Assuming what you claim was said was actually said then I make it very clear that neither the statistician general nor NBS ever made any such admission at anytime to anybody and the unemployment computation does take into account all sectors, age groups and both rural and urban areas.”

Expectedly, the report has received brickbat from various quarters of the economy particularly political opponents, which are bent in scoring political points as criticise the current administration for failing to stimulate the economy.

The jobs statistics, however, pointed out that a rise in the unemployment rate is not entirely equivalent to an increase in job losses.

“Rather, an increase in unemployment can occur as a result of several reasons of which loss of an existing job is just one.

Arise in unemployment generally means the number of people searching for jobs has increased, which can occur because people previously outside the labour for (e.g students, housewives etc) have decided to join the labour force and are now in search of jobs, or people previously working have lost their jobs and are now in search of jobs. Often, it is a combination of these two.”

But, speaking on the unemployment report, a Professor of Capital Market Uwaleke at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Prof. Uche Uwaleke, said the statistics showed weakness in government economic policies geared at job creation.

According to him, the growing unemployment figure buttresses the fact that growth in the economy is still weak and not inclusive. The chief driver, which is the oil sector, is not employment elastic.

“There is the need to stimulate growth in sectors that have strong linkages to job creation such as manufacturing, construction, ICT and Agriculture,” Uwaleke noted.

“This will entail massive investments in infrastructure and putting in place measures to ensure that these sectors are able to access credit at single-digit interest rate.

“In view of the huge number of youths, who enter into the labour market each year, the government should focus on creating the right environment including investing in entrepreneurial education and skills acquisition for the high unemployment rate to go down,” he added.

Also, an economic analyst told THISDAY the rising unemployment did not come as a total surprise given that key sectors of the economy were yet to fully recover from the recent recession.

He said:”The latest NBS employment data is not surprising given the fact that we have seen a fast, accelerated trajectory of unemployment especially after the economy slumped into recession in 2016 due in large part to oil price and export contraction.

“Given the fact that, apart from Agricultural sector , most other sectors like industrial sector are still recovering from the last recession, the latest rise in unemployment data is not surprising.

“Again with inflation coming down from a peak of 18 per cent late 2017, natural implication is to see elevated unemployment until the economy recovers fully and reach some equilibrium. What is important is for government to ramp up its diversification strategy as encapsulated in the economic recovery and growth plan by specifically targeting supporting industries that support not only growth, but development especially on area of employment generation and income enhancement to lift the economy out of the extreme poverty level as reported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

“Government need to fast track implementation of capital expenditure aspect of budget with a view to improving employment generation directly and indirectly through efficient infrastructure like power and transportation network.”

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