Job policies don't add up, says statistician-general

15 May 2016 - 02:00 By ASHA SPECKMAN

Statistician-general Pali Lehohla is as unapologetically forthright about the government's jobs policies, which he says are inadequately devised, as he is about wearing a canary-yellow suit until the end of next month.From his vantage point of crunching the national statistics, he sees that far from eradicating the legacy of apartheid, some government policies are hopelessly inadequate and have resulted in unintended consequences: at this rate, the country will be unable to significantly reverse spikes in unemployment.This week, shocking jobs data showed that in the first quarter the unemployment rate jumped to 26.7% from 24.5% in the last quarter of 2015, according to StatsSA.Among the unintended consequences of government policies is the problem of "scope creep". For example, in the low-skilled jobs category, young people are losing out on opportunities earmarked for them to older job-seekers because of the desperate unemployment situation.story_article_left1"Whatever policy that comes in that is directed at the youth, the adults creep in and eat up what is there," Lehohla said in an interview on Tuesday, a day after publishing the Quarterly Labour Force Survey.This is why he says initiatives such as the Expanded Public Works Programme, the R9-billion Jobs Fund established in 2011 that has yet to fulfil its 150,000 jobs target, and the youth wage subsidy or tax incentive scheme that was established in 2014, have not affected unemployment. Lehohla said these initiatives would have been better as pilot studies, which could have been scaled up in some way later on.Lehohla said data showed that scope creep was also a challenge in the informal sector, which is now dominated by men, who account for 55% of the sector, while women are "trapped at the bottom"."So, policy has to be directed in a way that it is monitored because it has this ability for a transfer function. It transfers the function from women to men, the function from youth to adults," said Lehohla.The political hot potato of "no wage being better than low wage" for South Africa's large population of low-skilled workers was highlighted as a problem in a report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise last month.Lehohla's numbers support the view for policy review in this regard. "I know that Cosatu and others are saying 'No'. I think there has to be agreement for short-term things because the wage subsidy does give somebody an opportunity to get in the door to do certain things. To say it is ... scab labour and so on, I don't think we are doing the right thing for them [the unemployed]," he said.The jobs data released this week were such a shock that some economists, due to the data being based on a new master sample, questioned their veracity. I'm not going anywhere. There is so much that has to be done in this space of measurement, particularly now  But Lehohla dismissed this, saying "their criticism is terribly misplaced, it's void technically and barren intuitively".He said the new master sample investigating the same population could not yield different results to the old master sample. "Master sample effects are not at stake. When we saw these changes we had to validate. We are covering the same population, we have just rotated our sampling points in the same population. We had an overlapping study to see whether there was any difference."The overlapping study, although it was smaller, confirmed the results.So government policies have often benefited unintended recipients. And education is a massive stumbling block.Lehohla said poor skills and education were more a problem among black and coloured communities than in white and Indian communities, which had lower rates of unemployment.Social consequences that can be linked to apartheid policies that separated black families, and the persistence of apartheid migratory patterns, are other factors that hinder the prosperity of black people, in spite of a growing middle class, according to Lehohla."You look at the people who are 15 to 34; they are unemployed and not educated. They do not have the technical skills. I don't see a programme that suggests that we'll break the back of this problem ... the problem is worsening. Its worsened by the fact that we have missed the opportunity, which Indians and whites have had, and they are reaping the benefits of that demographic dividend."story_article_right2Although many more black students were entering university, they graduated at a lower rate. "At this rate the dam will be empty. The gradient is not letting [up], it's still very steep," Lehohla said.The data that StatsSA has collected during Lehohla's 16 years at the helm are being fed into the national planning unit. A project to digitally capture old records and align these with data on the Department of Home Affairs system is under way. The Community Survey will be published at the end of next month, when Lehohla will peel off his yellow suit, which he has been wearing since January as part of a campaign to identify with census staff working on a series of surveys."We are moving from releasing single-series data to weaving a picture for the country; to start working on a plan that tells where we should be."This is why Lehohla dismisses rumours that his term is nearly up. "Who says I'm leaving? I'm not going anywhere. There is so much that has to be done in this space of measurement, particularly now."We've built a very strong bench but there's a lot more work and a lot more in the statistical leadership space that South Africa still has to achieve."

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