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No, Kenya’s unemployment rate is not 39.1%

This article is more than 5 years old

When a reader highlighted the frustration of young unemployed Kenyans in a letter, the Business Daily tweeted an infographic as illustration.

It showed Kenya’s unemployment rate - supposedly at 39.1% in 2015 - as the highest of five eastern African countries.

The business-focused newspaper cited the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as the source of its data. It had used the same figure in May 2017, attributing it to the UN agency’s “2017 Human Development Index”. Four months later, The Standard, another national publication, also ran with the number.

What about the ‘economically inactive’?

A UNDP spokesman, Ngele Ali, referred Africa Check to the organisation’s 2016 Human Development Report. This, she said, was the most recent in the agency’s annual reports on human development. It was released in March 2017.

The 2016 report said Kenya’s unemployment rate was 9.2%, citing the International Labour Organisation as its source.

The 39.1% figure appears to have been deduced from the report’s finding that Kenya’s employment-to-population ratio was 60.9%  [100% - 60.9% = 39.1%]. (Note: We have asked the newspaper for comment on how it calculated the unemployment rate and will update this report with their response.)

But the employment-to-population ratio does not translate into the unemployment rate, a labour expert told Africa Check.

“If you do a direct subtraction [100% - 60.9% = 39.1%], I think you miss the point,” Dr Jacob Omolo, a labour economist at Kenyatta University, said.

While the employment-to-population ratio may be a good measure of employment, it is not necessarily a good one of unemployment, he said.

“Employment-to-population ratio is the proportion of the working-age population aged 15-64 years that is in employment,” he said. “Out of the people aged 15-64 years, there are those who are not in employment, not because they have no employment opportunities, but because they may be in school.”

In addition to students, others such as the sick, retired and women taking care of others at home are also classified as “economically inactive” - neither employed nor unemployed.

Kenya’s latest unemployment data, from a labour force survey carried out between 2015 and 2016, put the official unemployment rate at 7.4%. In addition, at least 20% of the labour force were underemployed.

Find out how the rate was calculated, and why it has sparked public debate, in our factsheet.


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