Job disparities according to race are alarming

A Recent report by Statistics SA provides interesting insights on employment and unemployment in SA. It shows that between 1994 and this year, the number of jobs increased by more than 6-million. However, as a result of population growth, unemployment also rose by 2.6-million to 5.1-million, a rate of 25% under the strict definition of unemployment. It rose to 8.2-million (35%) under the expanded definition, which includes people who have given up looking for jobs.

Only a quarter of the 6.2-million jobs created between 1994 and this year were low-skilled and 45% were semiskilled positions. The number of skilled jobs more than doubled over the 20 years and more skilled jobs were created than low-skilled jobs.

Most of the newly employed workers are black. Using the racial categories employed by Statistics SA, the proportion of the employed workforce who are black rose from 63% to 73%. Those who are white fell from 21% to 13%. Just more than half of all skilled jobs are now held by black people. Skilled jobs also rose among coloureds and Indians. Whites’ share of skilled jobs fell from 40% to 30%. Three-quarters of all semiskilled workers are now black — statistically and politically probably the most dramatic shift. White workers moved from semiskilled to skilled jobs so their share of semiskilled jobs fell from 23% to 10%. Of the 5.3-million black people who gained jobs over the period, 20% were in skilled and 55% in semiskilled jobs. Only 25% were low-skilled.

This suggests an increasing and welcome normalisation of our labour force with regard to population demographics. However, we cannot ignore the very racially skewed starting point in 1994. The deep-rooted legacy of racial exclusion becomes apparent when we examine changes in job categories of the race groups. For all race groups, the importance of skilled jobs has risen. The proportion of whites with skilled jobs rose from 42% to 61%. Half of Indian workers and just under a quarter of coloured workers now hold skilled positions. For black workers the proportion has barely shifted, from 15% to only 18%.

These disparities are mirrored across age groups. The particular nature of youth unemployment is highlighted by the fact that the only age category that has not benefited from increased access to skilled jobs is young black people aged 25-34. This is very worrying as, demographically and politically, this group is our future. It confirms that in order to achieve true transformation of the workforce, two things need to happen. The first is that we must create all types of jobs at a much faster rate. Second, access by black South Africans to skilled positions needs to accelerate. For this to happen, we need dramatic improvements in our education system.

Our failure in both these areas is illustrated by the race and education realities of high unemployment levels. The number of unemployed (using the expanded definition) rose for all races between 1994 and this year, but the disparity across groups is huge.

The proportion of black people who are unemployed actually fell slightly to 40%, but the number of unemployed rose from 4.2million in 1994 to 7.3-million. Unemployment is now 28% for coloureds, 18% for Indians and 8% for whites.

Unemployment rose from 40% to 42% for all those without matric, and from 28% to 34% for those with only a matric. Unemployment for blacks with matric fell from 45% to 40%, but is much higher than for other race groups. Unemployment for those with a basic postschool qualification rose from 6% in 1994 to 14%. However, as Statistics SA has shown elsewhere, for those with a university degree, unemployment is just 5.2%, low by global standards. This highlights the desperate shortage of skilled workers in SA and the disparity in employer perceptions of university versus other tertiary qualifications.

These disparities in employment and unemployment according to race, skills and educational qualifications are alarming. The imperative for dramatically improved schooling could not be presented more starkly. The economy needs to grow rapidly in order to create many more jobs, but unless things change substantially, most of these jobs will be closed to the majority of young workers as they will be in skilled and semiskilled positions, requiring quality matric passes or even higher qualifications.

A step change is required to enable many more young black people to acquire the needed qualifications and to upgrade the skills of the unemployed. We may need to devote far more resources to education. SA already spends quite a high proportion on education relative to other developing countries. But for structural change to be achieved, much more may be needed.

Reallocating resources to schooling on this scale at a time when government finances are under pressure will not be easy. But the time has surely come to focus our efforts on the single objective of fixing education.

Article by Gavin Keeton

Article Source: Business Day Live

• Keeton is with the economics department at Rhodes University