The problem with 7.4 percent as the official figure for unemployment rate in Kenya

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Unemployment rate in Kenya
  • 4 years ago
  • Posted: April 2, 2018 at 2:21 pm

The Wikipedia list of countries by unemployment rate places Kenya at position five (5) from the bottom, or position 194 overall out of 199 countries. According to that list, unemployment rate in Kenya stood at 42% in 2009, a figure based on data collected from The Global Relations Handbook by Krishnamurthy Sriramesh and Dejan Vercic which was published by Taylor & Francis in 2009. Another figure for unemployment rate in Kenya in 2009 is provided as 12.7% by Trading Economics, a website that claims to provide its users with “accurate information” using data collected from “official sources”.  The official source for unemployment data in Kenya relied on by Trading Economics is the International Labour Organisation.

Kenya herself relies on data collected by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, which early last month published that unemployment rate in Kenya for 2015/2016 financial year averaged at 7.4%, a figure significantly lower than that found at Trading Economics which put Kenya’s unemployment rate at 11%.

Before KNBS published the 7. 4% unemployment rate, publications and other articles cited 39.1% as the figure for the country’s unemployment rate. This was a figure got from United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) 2017 which ranked Kenya as having the worst unemployment rate in East Africa. An article by Victor Amadala appearing at Dhahabu Kenya published in January 2017 cited a Spectator Index Survey as saying unemployment rate in Kenya stood at 40% in 2017.

The figures being thrown around as the unemployment rate in Kenya clearly indicate that we have two sets of data – one set showing that Kenya’s unemployment rate has never surpassed 13%, and another saying the unemployment rate has been as high as 42%. These discrepancies are very significant at economic policy formulation and implementation levels. Any serious Kenyan must therefore ask, “What is the real unemployment rate in Kenya?”

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When compared with the Wikipedia list that gives Kenya a 42% unemployment rate, then the United Nations Human Development Index appears legit. The legitimacy of HDI is again backed by the Spectator Index Survey. Secondly, HDI is a United Nations Programme which would suggest it doesn’t have reasons to massage data for political expediency. Data by KNBS (most possibly relied on by Trading Economics) that indicates unemployment rate in Kenya has never surpassed 13%  however can be taken with a grain of salt, mostly because there is a possibility the politicians influence the content of reports published by the institution, if the politics surrounding the 2009 census is to go by.  From believability perspective, one would therefore be inclined to lean towards HDI.

As at now, we do not know the methodologies used by either KNBS or HDI to collect their data on the country’s unemployment rate. More specifically, we do not know how either KNBS or HDI considered an individual unemployed. KNBS provides an indication of their definition of unemployed Kenyan, as their KIHBS 2015/2016 Labour Force Basic Report provides that they have used the strict definition of unemployment. Strictly speaking, an unemployed person is a person who is not actively looking for a job. That is, if a person is not employed and is not looking for a job, that person is not considered unemployed.

If KNBS used the very strict definition of unemployment and therefore failed to include the unemployed Kenyans who are tired of looking for jobs in their calculations, then it can be clear why their figure of 1.4 million unemployed Kenya is way to low compared to the 6.6 million figure provided by United Nations Human Development Index. As a person who has the experience of looking for jobs until I gave up, I would rather lean towards a figure that considers any unemployed person as unemployed, whether that person is actively looking for a job or not.

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The question I have, isn’t Kenya National Bureau of Statistics a member any international body that regulates statistical standards like UNSD? If so, why would statistical data published by KNBS be so different from that published by UNHDI, given then UNHDI and UNSD are both UN owned?

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