58% youth unemployment rate in South Africa was already a crisis before the corona-virus pandemic. Economists predict dire outcomes for the current lock-down generation who will face disrupted education and greater obstacles in the search for work. As Yeisa Goal We must act to keep young people from falling further into poverty and being permanently locked out of the economy.
The most conservative estimate is that Covid-19 will strip 1-2 million jobs from South Africa’s economy. Early in lock-down, Yeisa partnered with industry associations across a range of sectors to survey 2,500 organisations and develop an understanding of their needs and challenges, particularly around loss of revenue, post-lock-down employee reintegration, and security and safety. The survey identified the need to support small businesses in particular as they tried to navigate and access a range of support services and assistance measures.
The safe reopening of the economy, in a way that can be sustained, is our best chance of curbing even more unemployment than is currently predicted. This is why a broad coalition was formed to launch Return 2 Work – a comprehensive portal of all the tools a business needs to assure that it can reopen and stay open safely.
This includes clear road-maps with one-touch access to all the relevant regulations, sample checklists and draft communications that can be used in the workplace. So far, more businesses have taken up the offer to help them safely return to work. We must identify opportunities that put inclusive growth at the center of our strategy, creating an economy more premised on fairness, empowerment, justice, and equality.
One clear area where this is possible is the digital economy – where we are all more reliant on being connected online than ever before. This means taking seriously the fact that South Africa has some of the highest data costs on the continent.
The call for the price of data to fall is urgent. Young people tell us they are eager to learn but that data cost are a barrier. Because they have limited cash, they purchase smaller data bundles even when the price is higher than bulk data bundles. They spend an average of R360 per month on data (and some as much as R1,800) for job searches, online applications, social media, research and academic work. Expensive data costs force Youth online after midnight when data is cheaper, whereas more affordable data allows youth to be productive during daytime hours, offering healthier psycho social benefits and giving them access to online communities when they most need it. By lowering – or even removing – data costs, young people are more readily able to access information, seek learning and job opportunities and engage with others.
While South Africa’s formal sector remains our critical engine for growth, we recognize that work will become more informal in the months ahead as people hunt for opportunities to earn in a much tougher economy. Our response to Covid-19 can open up new opportunities for young people to support their communities in reopening and rebuilding. The crisis highlights the critical importance of the informal sector in income generation, especially for unemployed young people.
As informal work becomes the new formal work, it is as critical to inovatively support and sustain the informal sector as it is to keep the formal sector afloat. Informal businesses need proper support to thrive, such as access to platforms and market linkages like Gauteng’s SMME portal for preferential procurement and the Informal Business Permits Portal.
As our youth become more economically excluded than before, innovative community-based program’s for them need to be coordinated and scaled up through partnerships with government and civil society.
During lock-down, Yeisa and its partners have reached five million young people and our Youth Voices Report tracks what they are sharing as they manage the pandemic. Sixty-three percent of young people we surveyed do not have an income and many youths are using their childcare grant to support themselves as they struggle to make ends meet.
We must continue to lift up youth voices to ensure resilience and recovery, and to provide young people with the opportunities to build their skills and stay positive. If we amplify their voices and act on what they are saying, they will become part of the solution that leads us out of this crisis.