Jobs and the employment market: the first statistical data available for seven African capitals

04/05/05

At the request of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), a series of surveys on the labour market and the informal sector were performed in 2001 – 2003, in seven countries of this region. They were conducted by the national statistical institutes under the joint guidance of experts from AFRISTAT and IRD economists (1 ). The first results provide accurate, original and homogeneous figures on the employment market and the informal sector in the capital city of each country. While some specific national situations are expressed, great similarities emerge concerning the structure of this market and the breakdown into the different sectors. This survey, which gave the opportunity to set up a permanent regional statistical analysis network, should in the long term provide collections of data useful for examination of the lines of economic policy on poverty reduction and development in these countries.

This type of programme appears particularly pertinent seeing that the African Union has committed itself to putting employment at the heart of its preoccupations, as it declared at the employment summit in Ouagadougou, in September 2004.

In most countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, few reliable data are available relating to employment, unemployment and the conditions in which occupations are practised. This is in spite of the fact that societies base their economies on work and that reduction of poverty remains the main objective of economic policies. The existing information in any case results from different concepts and methods of analysis peculiar to each national statistics institute, which prevents comparison at the scale of these countries as a whole.

In order to fill this gap, surveys on employment and the informal sector (2) were conducted from September 2001, at the request of the Committee of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). The surveys were performed by the national statistics institutes in conjunction with AFRISTAT and the IRD (1 ). Two series of enquiries were conducted, the first on employment and the second on the businesses in the informal sector. They investigated the labour market characteristics in the economic capitals of seven countries of the UEMOA zone (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo). For the first time, a common analytical method– the 1-2-3 survey (3) developed by the IRD researchers- was used simultaneously in these different countries, with the aim of utilizing and comparing the data obtained on the regional scale. The results of the first two phases of enquiries, now available, bring new, detailed and homogeneous figures on employment, the labour market, and the informal sector in West Africa.

There are specific national situations, but the employment markets of the seven capitals considered show great similarities.

These agglomerations as a whole have nearly 60 % of the population of 10 years and over who are active. This means that 6 persons out of 10 have a job or are unemployed and seeking employment. Out of the jobs held, 76 % are practised in the informal sector which thus represents the first creator of employment in the urban areas, way before the formal private sector (14 %) and the public sector (8 %).

Within the active population, 13 % are children aged from 10 to 14 years, mainly girls. This trend for early entry onto the employment market is a cause for concern, to be considered with the fact that a great proportion of the active population has not had regular schooling: 40 % in Bamako (Mali), Niamey (Niger) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), 20 % and less at Cotonou (Benin) and Lomé (Togo). Everywhere, unemployment affects the young people and, paradoxically, grows as the education level increases. Even though, in general, schooling is still a positive factor, university and other academic qualifications appear not to be an absolute guarantee against unemployment. Furthermore, the unemployed, and especially the youngest among them who are quite flexible as to the kind of work they look for, aspire nonetheless to salaries markedly higher than those received by the individuals holding jobs, having the same qualification level. There is therefore a deep discrepancy, and indeed a source of severe disillusionment, between people's professional plans and the real job opportunities.

However, more than unemployment, whose rate is around 11 % over all the cities studied, it is clearly underemployment which is the main factor that hinders improvement of the situation on the labour market. That affects 67 % of active people. Thus, nearly 2.7 million out of more than 4 million people are in a situation of underemployment: unemployed, with activity but earning less than the minimum hourly rate of pay (invisible underemployment) or working less than 35 hours against their will (visible underemployment). Ouagadougou has the highest proportion of such cases, with nearly three-quarters of active people in this situation.

As for those considered as non-active, four out of ten have effectively pulled out of the employment market, thinking it impossible to find a job given the dearth of jobs on offer. These non-active people, who are in a latent form of unemployment, represent potential job seekers, who could be reintegrated into the employment market if this improved. They must therefore be considered as such in any deliberations on setting up economic measures encouraging job creation.

The public sector, where salaries are higher, takes on few personnel, but the informal sector now provides the great majority of jobs. However, those occupations are insecure, poorly paid and therefore scarcely attractive. These first survey results show clearly that requalification of these jobs and the increase in productivity of the sector, by generating better paid employment, hold promise as a route for improving the jobs market in the countries of West Africa, suitable for their socio-economic situation.

Other enquiries will complete the full array of survey work, with the objective of following-up the way trends in these data develop over time. This research programme is running at the very time that the African Union has just committed itself to putting employment at the heart of its concerns, at the summit of Heads of State on this subject, held in September 2004 at Ouagadougou.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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