Making figures count

Monday, 7 April 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Unemployment in Sri Lanka has dipped once again to 4.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to the latest data released by the Department of Census & Statistics. No doubt this will give policy makers more bragging points but there are ongoing concerns over underemployment, salary levels and the continued brain drain that need to be added to create a balanced picture. The overall unemployment rate reported for females was 6.4% and it was 2.8% for males. The highest unemployment rate was reported from the G.C.E (A/L) and above group, which was about 8.1%. This shows the loopholes in the otherwise rosy figures. Clearly equitable employment opportunities are still lacking with women, especially educated women falling behind in the race for worthwhile employment. These percentages of course also point to the need for social attitudes towards working women to change. Well-qualified youth, irrespective of whether they are male or female, also struggle to find work. In fact the survey results also revealed that unemployment among females is higher than that among males in all age groups. Women are also more employed in the informal sector, which means they would have less access to equal salary, health and retirement benefits. The estimated economically active population was about 8.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, of which 64.6% were males and 35.4% were females. Out of the economically inactive population, 25.1% were males and 74.9% were females. This means that over the next few years more women will enter the job market and if social attitudes, labour laws and other structures do not change to meet their needs the result will be disempowerment. Not to mention stalling of economic growth. The total number of employed persons in Sri Lanka was estimated at about 8.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, of which about 44.2% are engaged in the Service sector, 25.2% in the Industries sector and 30.6% in the Agriculture sector. This does not count the 2 million plus men and women who are employed as migrant workers. The conditions of their employment are often highlighted only when tragedy strikes. Basically, for an overwhelming number of young people this means a job does not necessarily equal a livelihood. This is especially true of Sri Lanka where low unemployment numbers need to be seen in comparison to State handouts such as Samurdhi, which has not seen a significant decline in numbers. Another aspect is of course household income figures that are also ironically released by the same department. According to the Household Income & Expenditure Survey 2012/13 report, Rs. 40,887 is needed by an average family in Sri Lanka to meet their monthly household expenses while an urban household with less than four family members needs Rs. 59,001. However, the Central Bank says per capita income was recorded at $ 3,000, which allows for a monthly income of Rs. 32,500. Yet the new report has stated the average per capita income is Rs. 11,932 per month. More than 50% of Sri Lanka’s households make an income of less than Rs. 35,000 and while these could be supplemented by migrant worker remittances, it shows a deepening level of inequality. Employment must result in meaningful income and support a decent standard of life. Otherwise unemployment figures are just political pipe dreams.