Johannesburg - A grim picture of the state of South Africa’s youth emerged when Statistics South Africa released its youth unemployment and health reports on Monday.
Race and geography continue to determine who between the ages of 15 to 34 is employed, in better health or covered by medical aid.
Black African youths remain worse affected regarding job and health prospects, while residents of the Western Cape and Gauteng are more likely to be better off than their counterparts in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Stats SA pointed to a mismatch of skills and available jobs: “As many as 55 percent of young people, who are actively looking for jobs, have education levels below matric, while an additional 36.4 percent only have a matric qualification.”
After years of warning of the “ticking time-bomb” of youth unemployment by civil-society groups and commentators, including former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, the Stats SA “National and provincial labour market: youth” report, from 2008 to the first quarter of this year, indicates that efforts to create jobs for the youth are lagging.
The reports come six months after the launch of the National Youth Policy 2015 to 2020 – “We don’t want a hand out, we want a hand up!”
It proposes targeted interventions to improve education and skills, including youth participation in public works schemes, support for entrepreneurship and on-the-job training opportunities, and improved life skills, including combating substance abuse.
According to Stats SA, youths make up 55 percent of the country’s 35.8 million working-age population.
Of the 19.7 million youths, however, only 6.2 million were employed, while 3.6 million were unemployed although still actively looking for a job. And 1.53 million youths had given up looking for work.
The remaining 8.4 million young people are at school or doing tertiary education, or were home-makers.
Youth unemployment overall rose to 36.1 percent in 2011, up from 32.7 percent in 2008 – effectively more than double that of the unemployment rate among adults. On the narrow definition of unemployment, excluding discouraged workseekers, the overall joblessness rate rose to 26.4 percent last month, the highest since 2003.
Black African youth, like adults, are hardest hit by unemployment: 40.3 percent were without a job this year, up from 36.3 percent in 2008. In contrast, white youth unemployment stood at 11.2 percent this year, slightly up from 9.3 percent in 2008. Coloured youth unemployment rose to 32.1 percent this year, up by just under 4 percentage points, and Indian youth unemployment rose to 22.6 percent this year, up from 17.4 percent in 2008.
Overall, more young women are affected by unemployment, with joblessness among black African women aged 15 to 34 at 44.8 percent now, compared to their male counterparts’ unemployment of 36.7 percent.
At a provincial level, youth unemployment in the first quarter of the year was the lowest in the Western Cape at 29.9 percent, and the highest in the Northern Cape (45.1 percent), followed by the Eastern Cape (41 percent). In KwaZulu-Natal, it stood at 33.4 percent and in Gauteng at 39.8 percent.
Meanwhile, Stats SA’s “Morbidity and mortality patterns among South African youths, 2013”, based on that year’s general household survey and using other available health-related data, shows that overall, just 15 percent of South Africa’s youth are covered by medical aid. However, coverage drops to 8.8 percent for black African youths, compared to 73.4 percent among white youths. Young people in Gauteng and the Western Cape were more likely to be covered by medical aid at 23.6 percent and 19.9 percent respectively, while those enjoying such protection were the lowest in the Eastern Cape (7.6 percent) and Limpopo (7.1 percent).
Of those not covered by medical aid, 79.1 percent were employed, raising questions about the type of employment these youths have, given that casual, short-term or labour broker-facilitated jobs don’t carry benefits. Also, 79.8 percent of students didn’t have medical aid cover, while 96 percent of unemployed youths went without.
One in three youths didn’t consult a doctor, nurse or traditional healer, and decided to self-medicate for sickness recorded in the month before the survey.