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ANALYSIS: How many young Kenyans are unemployed? A look at the numbers

Youth unemployment in Kenya should be declared a national disaster, a lawmaker told the country’s national assembly in August 2018.

In a motion calling for a special fund to tackle the problem, MP Anthony Oluoch said “overall unemployment among youth is at 55%”. The proposed fund would be at least 5% of annual national revenue collections.

The legislator also said 70% of Kenya’s population was younger than 35. (Note: Africa Check has tried to contact Oluoch for the source of his data. We will update this report should he share it.)  

Youth unemployment figures a tower of Babel

Various youth unemployment rates bestride public debate in Kenya. A 2017 study backed by the British government put it at a “staggering” 22% of those aged 15 to 24 in 2016.

In a much-reported 2016 survey, two Aga Khan University scholars found the rate among those over 18 but under 35 to be 55%. (Note: However, co-author Alex Awiti told Africa Check their survey of 1,845 respondents “wasn’t a labour force survey”.)

Some publications have put youth unemployment at 90% of all unemployed Kenyans, while a September 2018 statistical update by the United Nations Development Programme placed Kenya’s youth unemployment rate at 26.2% in 2017. This was for those aged 15 to 24.

Definitions are needed

When calculating youth unemployment rates, a number of factors must be defined, Boaz Munga, a policy analyst at the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis, told Africa Check.

Munga, who has has researched and written about youth unemployment in Kenya, said these included:

  • Who are the youth?

  • What is employment?

  • What is unemployment?

  • Who makes up the labour force?


How do we define ‘youth’?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines youth as people aged 15 to 24 years. But it notes that “countries vary somewhat in their operational definitions” and that these differences “have implications for comparability”.

For statistical purposes, the United Nations uses the same definition of youth as the ILO: people aged 15 to 24 years. Wellington Chibebe, the director for the ILO country office for Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, confirmed this with Africa Check.

But the African Union in its African Youth Charter notes that youth or young people refer to every person “between the ages of 15 and 35 years”, he noted.

Since 2013, the ILO has urged countries to use the AU definition for national statistics and the UN definition for international reports, Chibebe said. (Note: The ILO says most countries use 15 to 34 years because 34 years is understood as 34 years, 11 months and 29 days. But data for those aged 15 to 35 is also provided.)  

How many young people are unemployed in Kenya?

The ILO defines the unemployment rate as “the number of unemployed in an age group divided by the labour force for that group”. The labour force is defined as people of working age who are either employed or unemployed.

The most recent jobs survey from Kenya’s statistics agency is the 2015/16 Basic Labour Force report released in March 2018. It estimated there were 1.22 million unemployed Kenyans aged 15 to 34 in the year from September 2015 to August 2016, when the survey was carried out.

The 1.22 million unemployed make up 11.4% of the 10.7 million Kenyans aged 15 to 34 who are part of the labour force. This puts the official youth unemployment rate at 11.4%. (Note: This is also known as as the “strict or standard” unemployment rate - the rate among people who are actively looking for a job. The data agency did not calculate a “broad” unemployment rate that included people who had given up looking for work or started some form of self-employment.)

Overall, the national unemployment rate for the entire labour force was 7.4%. The data agency said the 15 to 34 age band made up 55.3% of the labour force, and 85% of unemployed people were younger than 35.

Kenya youth unemployment by the numbers
  Youth unemployment (15-34) Overall unemployment (15-64)
Total 11.4% 7.4%
Urban 8.0% 5.0%
Rural 3.5% 2.4%
Male 4.0% 2.6%
Female 7.4% 4.8%

Source: 2015/2016 Labour Force Basic Report

The survey did not capture the educational qualifications of unemployed youth.

What about ‘underemployed’ youth?

Many people who can’t find jobs in their field of training become self-employed to pay the bills, economist Anzetse Were told Africa Check. These people are underemployed in terms of their skills.

“Visible” underemployment is when a person works fewer hours than the hours for which they are available and willing to work.

The 2015/16 labour force report shows 20.9% of those aged 15 to 34 years were visibly underemployed. This was against a national underemployment rate of 24%.

The statistics office said its survey did not cover areas such as formal and informal work, multiple jobs, earnings, literacy and those not in the labour force. It recommended more research into these topics, with a new survey announced in September 2018.

Edited by Lee Mwiti


What help is there for unemployed youth?

Kenya’s Youth Enterprise Development Fund was set up in December 2006 to help youth (defined as those aged between 18 and 35 years) acquire work skills and so reduce unemployment.

The fund’s chair, Ronald Osumba, told Africa Check the agency had loaned out about KSh5 billion so far while another KSh8 billion had been lent by financial institutions in a deal where they matched the loans given by the fund.

In 2017 the fund reported that, since inception, it had loaned money to about 880,000 youth businesses seeking to start or expand, trained 360,000 in entrepreneurship and helped 20,900 get jobs outside the country.

But its beneficiaries faced many challenges, Osumba told Africa Check. Many went into business after being unable to get into formal employment. If this became available they often left their businesses, or handed them to less invested parties, often contributing to high failure rates.

Other hurdles included loan defaults, long repayment periods that reduced new loans, and a lack of skills to maintain businesses.

The agency estimates it has reached only 1.5 million of the estimated 18 million young people in Kenya.

Further reading:


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