Are 70% of Kenyans who can work jobless? Union chief mangles numbers

Unemployment remains a challenge to most African governments. Kenya’s no less, but debating solutions should rest on accurate information.

Terming the situation “critical”, a Kenyan trade unionist said that unemployment was the country’s biggest challenge.

“Statistics indicate that Kenya’s unemployment rate currently stands at approximately 70%,” Wilson Sossion, the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress of Kenya, an umbrella body for public service unions, said. He spoke at national celebrations in Nairobi to mark Labour Day.

Governments across the continent continue to struggle with unemployment, but could 7 in 10 Kenyans who are available to work be out of a job? We checked.

9.7% unemployment rate in 2009

Contacted by Africa Check, Sossion said he had sourced his data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank.

The most recent data on unemployment is a labour force analysis of 2009 census figures by the Kenya statistics agency. Released in 2012, it put the overall unemployment rate at 9.7%.

The statistics agency defines the unemployment rate as the proportion of the labour force that does not have a job and is actively looking for work.

Survey to look at rate & quality of jobs

A report with the latest unemployment data is being finalised, James Gatungu, the director of production statistics at the agency told Africa Check.

“The census data gave us an unemployment rate of 9.7%. We are waiting to see what will come out this time,” he said, referring to results of the upcoming Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey 2015/16.

Gatungu said that statisticians have a problem collating accurate data on unemployment, because “in [the] African context, people don’t just stay idle”.

“They do something…like hawking. They are engaged in some form of economic activity. So while they are not employed, they are doing what we call indecent jobs; jobs that they were not trained for to eke [out] a living,” he said.

The survey will also look into the quality of jobs and other work components, the official added.

Young Kenyans bearing the brunt

The World Bank’s datasets, modelled from International Labour Organisation numbers, estimated that 11% of Kenya’s total workforce was unemployed in 2016.

In its Human Development Report 2016, using ILO models the United Nations Development Programme put Kenya’s total unemployment rate at 9.2% in 2015 while the youth unemployment (ages 15 to 24) was at 17.6%.

The UN agency defines the total unemployment rate as “the percentage of the labour force population ages 15 and older that is not in paid employment or self-employed but is available for work and has taken steps to seek paid employment or self-employment”.

The closest number to Sossion’s claim we could find was the unemployment rate of Kenyans aged 15 to 34, which the ILO estimated at 67% in 2014.

When Africa Check asked Sossion about the differing data from the national statistics agency and the World Bank, he promised to send a copy of his speech and the source of his data. Despite our following up, he is yet to do so. (Note: We will update this report when we get it.)

Conclusion: Kenya’s jobless rate high, but not 70%

In a speech during national Labour Day celebrations in Kenya, trade union leader Wilson Sossion said the country’s unemployment rate was 70%.

In the absence of a labour force survey the data is patchy, but neither of the sources he cited estimated the unemployment rate at higher than 12%.  

Unemployment in the country remains high, but solutions to the challenge should be informed by accurate data.

Edited by Lee Mwiti

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