The number of Kenyans without jobs increased to more than 2.97 million in the quarter to December, underscoring the labour market woes in the wake of elevated inflation and reduced activity in the dominant agricultural sector.
The number of jobless persons grew 2.94 percent from 2.89 million in September, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data released on Monday, a pointer that the economy shed over 80,000 jobs in the three months after the August 9 General Elections.
Young people below the age of 29, mainly secondary school and college graduates, were the hardest hit by joblessness in an economic setting that is plagued by reduced hiring on the back of sluggish corporate earnings.
More than half of Kenyans without jobs or 1.54 million people were between 20 and 29 years, underlining the growing crisis of youth unemployment.
This is a major blow to jobseekers, especially the more than one million young people who graduate from colleges and secondary schools in search of low-cadre positions like clerks.
The jobs report was released days after Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge said he expected the country’s economy to grow by 5.8 percent in 2023, trimming the forecast from an earlier figure of 6.1 percent because of a downward revision of the prospects for the agricultural sector.
Like other countries in the region, Kenya is emerging from a drought, the worst in four decades, that hit agriculture hard.
The Kenyan economy grew by an estimated 5.6 percent in 2022 compared to 7.5 percent a year earlier.
The unemployed persons consist of those who were actively looking for jobs and those who had despaired and quit searching for work, according to the KNBS.
“The combined rate of unemployment and potential labour force (LU3) [is] measured as either unavailable jobseekers or available potential jobseekers,” said KNBS.
“LU3 for the fourth quarter of 2022 was 13.9 percent compared to 13.3 percent recorded in the same quarter of 2021.”
The economic activity is estimated to have decelerated further in the fourth quarter after President William Ruto’s administration dropped consumption subsidies, which curbed inflation.
The price rises, partly fuelled by the war in Ukraine, have deepened economic problems triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, including stagnant wages and growing youth unemployment.
Kenya’s inflation has since June breached the target range of 2.5-7.5 percent, prompting the CBK’s Monetary Policy Committee to raise benchmark interest rates to curb consumer spending.
It stood at 9.2 percent in March.
The sky-high inflation has seen the shopping basket of households shrink, with many people forced to cut non-essential expenditures amid negative growth in real wages.
This has reduced demand for goods and services, denying businesses room to hire.
The worst drought in decades has reduced activities in Kenya’s agricultural sector—which is the biggest employer and accounts for the largest share of the country’s GDP.
Kenyans aged between 40 and 44 witnessed the highest growth in joblessness, with the number unemployed growing by half, or 58,702, in the quarter to 175,578 persons, according to KNBS.
The unemployed aged 35 and 39 increased by a fifth to 234,698 persons in the review period.
They were followed by unemployed youth aged between 20 and 24 whose number grew 13.63 percent to 1,004,755 in the quarter.
Joblessness among those aged between 30 to 34 years increased 4.93 percent quarter-on-quarter to 417,493 persons.
The data suggest that the number of persons aged between 45 and 64 without jobs dropped 15.56 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022 to 253,323.
The largest drop was amongst senior citizens aged between 60 and 64 who reduced to 29,105 from 42,506 in the review period, a 31.53 percent slide.
Years of strong economic growth have created jobs in Kenya, but they are mostly low-paying, informal and coming at a rate that economists say is too low to absorb the rapidly growing youth population.