Half of jobless Kenyans have given up looking for work, disheartened by reduced opportunities in a tough economy that has seen many businesses downsize operations in a bid to survive.
Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) covering the quarter ended March 2021 shows that 1.23 million out of the total of 2.49 million jobless Kenyans aged between 15 and 64 — and who qualify for the labour force — were not actively looking for employment.
The majority of those who have given up on employment are aged between 20 and 24 at 363,018, followed by 25 to 29-year-olds at 232,146.
The 20-24-year-old demographic consists mostly of fresh graduates whose job-seeking efforts are hurt by lack of experience and mismatch between skills and job openings.
The large numbers of new entrants into the job market every year have also led to limited opportunities, forcing many to seek alternatives such as setting up small businesses.
Since March 2020, many businesses have been unable to take more workers due to the economic problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many resorting to lay-offs staff or wage cuts to survive.
“It is a reflection of the reality in the economy right now, depending on the sectors. So long as businesses are not back to full recovery and people are facing uncertainties and more people are out of work, job seekers realise their chances of getting an opening are very slim,” said Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) executive director Jacqueline Mugo.
The government considers as unemployed people who do not have a job and have actively been looking for employment in recent weeks and are currently available for work.
These people numbered 1.26 million in the review period, out of the total of 2.49 million people who were out of work.
The remaining 1.23 million are classified as potential labour force, meaning they are people of working age who either did not make any effort to seek employment even though they are available and willing to work, or had sought employment but were not available to take up jobs even if the opportunity arose.
In the preceding quarter (four of 2020), the number of those who were unemployed stood at 1.04 million, while those not actively seeking work stood at 1.52 million.
The lower total number of unemployed is seen as a pointer to the continued recovery of the economy, which was worst hit between the second and third quarters of last year.
Overall, nearly 730,000 jobs were lost in 2020 due to the pandemic, which caused the economy to contract by 0.3 percent. The worst-hit sectors were hospitality, transport, support services, and education, as a result of restrictions, lockdowns and closure of schools for nine months.
These sectors are regaining their footing, although the threat of new Covid strains and continued struggles to access credit means that this recovery is slow.
“Unless it is the emerging sectors like information technology, most companies are not hiring and are even struggling to keep their current workforce. So potential workers are just biding their time surviving day to day until they see an element of recovery,” said Ms Mugo.
Better growth prospects for the rest of the year point to the continued recovery of jobs, especially in hospitality and manufacturing.
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) yesterday said it expects the economy to grow by 6.1 percent this year and 5.6 percent in 2022.
The projection is backed by better economic indicators in manufacturing, transport, wholesale, and retail trade.
The CBK, however, flagged the key job-generating agriculture sector as a concern for the year, saying that its growth is likely to be compromised by poor weather conditions and supply constraints.
Agriculture generates the highest number of jobs due to the long value chain that stretches from input sellers, farm workers, transporters, processors, and retailers in markets.