Unemployment is also referred to joblessness and occurs when people are without work and are actively seeking any income generating activity. The unemployment rate is a measure of the prevalence of unemployment and is measured as a percentage by dividing the number of the unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labor force (Walters, 2008).
Creation of adequate employment opportunities remain one of the greatest challenges in Kenya and other countries worldwide. For example, a 2009 report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that world unemployment rate has remained almost constant at an average of 6.1% over eleven years period between 1998 and 2008. In 2008, the world unemployment rate stood at 6% compared to 5.7% that was experienced in the previous year. This increase was said to be attributed by the economic melt-down that resulted to many individuals losing their jobs. Globally, the number of unemployed youths increased to 76 million with the youth-adult employed ratio remaining almost constant at 2.8 (Brooks, 2010).
Nature and Scope of Unemployment
For more than four and a half decades, the Kenyan government has continuously articulated the need to create sufficient employment opportunities to absorb the country’s growing labor force. Unemployment and underemployment have been identified as Kenya’s most difficult and persisting problems for a long time. One of the earliest attempts to identify the nature and cause of unemployment in the country was made between 1970 and 1974 through a development plan. In this plan the government identified three kinds of unemployment. They included rural unemployment, urban unemployment and educated unemployment. The causes of such unemployment were identified as high labor force, use of modern capital intensive technology and high wage and salary that triggered adoption of labor saving techniques of production (Hammer, 2011). According to the plan, the identified causes of Kenya’s unemployment were linked to inadequate training, consequent lack of skills, shortage of land and other resources.
Another stab to help understand the nature and causes of unemployment was made in 1983 in the report of president committee of unemployment in 1982-1983 and the sessional paper of 1985 on unemployment (Hammer, 2011). The committee in its report considered the problem of unemployment as one of the lack of access to income earning opportunities, whether in wage or self employment. In this, the major cause of unemployment was rapid growth of the labor force, low economic growth rate, job selectiveness, seasonality of some of the industries and skills imbalance. Others included inappropriate technology and failure of development programs to focus on areas with greater employment potential.
The latest government policy document; the “Sector plan for Labor Youth and Human Resource Development Sector (2008-2012)” contends that unemployment in Kenya is both structural and frictional in nature. Structural unemployment is a longer lasting form of unemployment caused by fundamental shifts in an economy. It occurs for a number of reasons. Among them is workers lacking requisite job skills or may live far from regions where jobs are available and are unable to move there. It is exacerbated by extraneous factors such as technology, government policy and competition. Structural unemployment can often last for decades and may need radical change to redress the situation (Walters, 2008). Frictional unemployment on the other hand is unemployment that is always present in the economy, resulting from temporary transitions made by workers and employers or having inconsistent or incomplete information. According to the plan, Kenya’s unemployment is mainly attributed to the slow growth and weak labor absorptive capacity of the economy, mismatch in skills development and demand, imperfect information flow and inherent rigidities within the country’s labor market (Hammer, 2011).
It is apparent that the nature and scope of unemployment seems to be similar for a given period of time. Issues that were being experienced 20 years ago are still being experienced and affecting the society inherently. Unemployment is not only meant for areas with minimal economic growth. It also affects areas that are doing very well in terms of economy and social wellbeing. This is due to other structures within the society.
Structures in the Society that Influence Unemployment
There are several structures in the society that tend to influence unemployment in the society. These structures tend to differ in the nature and degree that they affect the issue with. Among these structures are:
A country’s economy can have a great influence on the levels of unemployment. When the economic conditions are not favorable, this means that businesses involved are not doing very well. When businesses are not doing well, the need to expand them is not considered since there will be no profits to be derived. In the long-run, these businesses opt to reduce the costs involved in order to remain viable in light of the minimal profits being obtained. This results to layoff. People that were initially employed end up being unemployed. These individuals are sacrificed in order for organizations to be able to last the economic downturn without having to incur major losses. During this period, some businesses end up being wound up. As these businesses are wound-up, the labor force continuous to increase. Most individuals from the new workforce end up being unemployed since labor supply surpasses labor demand by far (Layard & Nickell, 2005).
Sometimes favorable economic conditions can also result to unemployment. When the economy is good, firms are tempted to expand their operations in order to benefit from the favorable conditions being experienced. Companies end up adopting advanced technologies that necessitate the use of machines instead of human labor. With time, a large number of employees end up being replaced by machines. This makes the unemployment rate to upsurge and become eminent in the society.
Gender is another structure in the society that has contributed significantly to the increasing levels of unemployment in the society. This is due to the existence of gender inequality. There are many organizations in the society that tend to overlook women during the job selection process. This is due to various beliefs that they hold towards them. Some organizations tend to believe that women are less productive compared to men. To some, it is not based on any facts but mere assumptions and beliefs that are transformed from one generation to another (Petersen, 2006). The aspect of women having to receive maternity leave acts as a way of justifying this action. Some companies will argue that this results in increased cost due to the replacements that will need to be done before the leave is over. Other companies are also ran by chauvinistic men that view women as very inferior creatures. With such a mentality, it becomes difficult for women to gain employment is such organizations. This increases the level of unemployment among women.
Women empowerment has also not been very prevalent. More men are venturing into entrepreneurial ventures compared to women. This makes it difficult for them to create employment for themselves and their fellow women. This has made the levels of unemployment to remain high.
Religious beliefs that individuals hold have also played a significant role in enhancing unemployment. Individuals from a certain religion cannot work in certain areas since their religion does not permit that. Some will also not work for certain individuals based of their status in the society. These beliefs are strong and it becomes difficult to uproot them (Wagner, 2009). People within these religions prefer being unemployed than going against their faith. Prevalence of these cases is resulting to increased unemployment levels that can only be reduced by trying to convince the individuals involved to adopt new ways of living.
When it comes to age, it is apparent that most of the individuals that are not employed are the youths. This is because they form the largest part of the population. Another issue is because some organizations are not willing to give them an opportunity. This is because they are deemed not to have sufficient experience to enable them to work in these organizations. Most organizations try to cut the cost of training by employing individuals with experience in the field being considered. Most of the youths do not have this kind of experience hence end up not being employed. The cost of training involved tends to be a major barrier (Hammer, 2011). In other instances, the elderly are also not retiring in order to give the youths an opportunity to take over their positions. This has resulted in increased unemployment among the youths.
The last population census showed that 78.3% of Kenya’s population was younger than 35 years. It confirms that the majority of the unemployed in Kenya are young because the Kenyan population is young.
From the above information it is apparent that unemployment has persisted in the society for a long time. Most of the attributes that influenced this occurrence 3 decades ago are still prevalent in the current period. Unemployment affects both developed and undeveloped regions. This is because when a region has favorable economic conditions, people tend to migrate hence off-setting the balance that existed between labor supply and labor demand. Gaining full employment does not seem attainable in the current situation. This is because a lot of structures in the society are playing a particular role in enhancing unemployment. The effect brought about by these structures tends to differ. For this reason, policy makers should be very open-minded when developing polices that are aimed at eradicating unemployment. Any action undertaken should be examined in order to identify whether the reaction has a negative consequence. All the sectors involved should work in partnership if any positive results are to be derived.
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