That over 770,000 youth lost their jobs in the first three months of the year, more than the country created in 2019, is shocking. These are Kenyans between the ages of 20 and 34, who were in employment or running a business, a 9.89 percent drop to 7.02 million in the period.
The revelation by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics is an indictment on our policies. When a country sheds so many jobs so quickly, it speaks to the harsh economic and labour environment. In Kenya, this has taken the form of hiring freezes amid sluggish corporate earnings and low credit access for businesses already overburdened with taxes.
It’s against this background that just last week, the Central Bank of Kenya warned that over 75 percent of small and medium sized enterprises operating today may collapse by end of this month. These are the businesses that employ majority of Kenyans.
Such a predicament should challenge our policymakers to quickly get their act right before the country sinks any further. It is all the more dire considering that job losses are expected to be higher today bearing in mind that the statistics agency compiled the data before the country reported its first Covid-19 case and quickly followed up with containment measures that have severely cut economic activity.
To its credit the government has acknowledged that the containment measures are making a bad situation worse and President Uhuru Kenyatta hinted as much when last month he said the country can’t be under lockdown forever and was considering easing the measures.
The government should therefore move fast before the health crisis worsens the unemployment situation. Stemming further job losses now is ultimately the cheaper option compared to letting the crisis run its course.
And the best way to do that is by easing of restrictions, especially considering that the country’s fiscal health does not allow it to issue further relief in form of generous unemployment allowance like is the case in the United States or wage support like the United Kingdom is doing.
If we can manage to stop more Kenyans from slipping into unemployment, then the effects of the economic stimulus packages recently issued will kick in with time leading to an uptick in economic activities.
But if we are to stem the tide of unemployment, every Kenyan needs to do his part observe health guidelines meant to stop spread of Covid-19.