Mushtak Parker is a writer and economist based in London. Picture: Supplied
Mushtak Parker is a writer and economist based in London. Picture: Supplied

Quality data important to determine investor decisions

By Mushtak Parker Time of article published Sep 13, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Data is an asset.

Its value lies in transparent methodology, access to information and independence in compilation.

Like all asset classes, it can be a double-edged sword depending on the vagaries of volatility, interpretation and their use and abuse, particularly through casuistry.

The current push back against the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, is led by, among others, data-driven epidemiologists constantly deciphering the distribution and determinants of health-related states and events in specified populations.

For countries and corporates, quality data is important because it can direct spending allocations and determine investment pathways and investor decisions.

National statistics departments largely reflect the quality of open government and the character of democratic accountability through figures which define the daily lives of citizens.

South Africa, embarrassingly after 27 years of democracy, features in several international metrics of shame – highest level of inequality, of youth unemployment, of gender-based violence, murder rates, etc.

South Africans are fortunate to have Stats SA complete with its mantra of “Improving Lives through Data Ecosystems”.

Its latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for Q2 2021 makes sober reading as the country tries to build back towards economic recovery in the face of the coronavirus Delta variant unleashing new waves of infections and lockdowns the world over.

The official unemployment rate was 34.4% in Q2 of 2021, up 1.8% from the 32.6% in Q1 - the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008.

The unemployment rate according to the expanded definition of unemployment increased by 1.2%, to 44.4%, in Q2 of 2021.

These headline figures are bereft of the 16 832 000 “economically inactive” compatriots, who include 3 317 000 “discouraged work-seekers”.

It also does not include “disguised” unemployment, usually prevalent in small family businesses.

But the two stand-out labour metrics of shame define what is rotten about the ruling ANC’s stewardship of the socio-economy.

The jobless rate among women was 36.8% in Q2 2021, compared to 32.4% among men.

The jobless rate among black women was 41.0% during this period, compared to 8.2% among white women, 22.4% among Indian/Asian women, and 29.9% among coloured women.

“Unfortunately,” warns Stats SA, “women in South Africa and around the world still face additional challenges that hinder them from accessing employment. Once they are in employment, appointments to decision-making positions and jobs in certain sectors, or of certain characteristics, remain elusive.”

Youth unemployment is particularly worrying. Despite President Ramaphosa’s Employment Stimulus initiative, which claims to have “supported” close to 700 000 job opportunities at end March, which constitutes 422 786 actual jobs created largely to young people, the number of those aged between 15-34 years not in employment, education or training (NEET) stood at 44.2% in Q2 2021.

Once again, young South African women bore the brunt of this inequality – 48.1% in Q2 compared to 40.5% for their male compatriots.

These figures give short thrift to Ramaphosa’s assertion, in an answer to a parliamentary question last week, that “the achievement of social cohesion and nation-building is closely tied to the work we are undertaking to drive economic growth, create employment and transform our economy”.

The government’s only mitigation is that the pandemic, according to the latest data from the ILO, has severely affected labour markets around the world, hurting young people more than other age groups.

Globally, youth employment fell by 8.7% in 2020, compared with 3.7% for adults, with middle-income countries such as South Africa most affected.

Employment losses among young people translated mostly into an increase in inactivity in 2020.

How on earth will the world achieve a substantial reduction in NEET rates (UN Susutainable Development Goals target 8.6) by 2030 – a goal already postponed from 2020?

In South Africa, however, the statistical devil is not necessarily in the detail only, but also in its delays in dissemination and the new “benchmarking and rebasing'' of the methodology of determining GDP growth, as Stats SA did recently.

A few days ago, Stats SA boldly declared that the South African economy recorded its fourth consecutive quarter of growth, expanding by 1,2% in the Q2 of 2021.

This followed a revised 1,0% rise in real GDP in Q1 2021.

The dampener is that “despite the gains made over the last four quarters, the economy is 1.4% smaller than what it was before the pandemic”.

The data similarly does not include the economic impact of the wave of severe economic disruption, protest action and violence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July.

That will only be reflected in the Q3 GDP results that are due for release in December.

Empirical evidence, says the ILO, confirms that entering the labour market during a recession/pandemic can impact young people’s labour market outcomes for a decade or more.

The policy and intellectual inputs are largely in place guided by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At the heart of the 17 SDGs is Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8), Gender Equality (SDG5), Reduced Inequalities (SDG10) and Quality Education (SDG4).

This is complemented by the ILO’s own Decent Work Agenda, which aims to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value, by 2030.

South Africa is a signatory to both Agendas.

What is woefully inadequate, especially in South Africa, is sustainable progress in real economy implementation in achieving the goals, where the state works with the private sector and other stakeholders in shared partnerships.

The only sustainable things in the polity are the ideological factionalism within the ANC, entrenched corruption at both local and central government, a bloated public sector, unrealistic wage demands and private sector profit hubris, which all pre-date the pandemic.

Parker is an economist and writer based in London

Cape Times

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