Why most of the world’s jobseekers will be from one continent

No matter what job you’re applying for, one thing is almost always true — someone else will be applying for that role too. Competition may bring nerves to the interview room, but it also keeps applicants on their toes — perfecting their resume, learning quick-fire facts, shining their shoes.

Globally, the number of people eager to get earning continues to grow year on year, and a new report from the IMF shows that in the next 20 years, most of the world’s jobseekers will be in Africa.

“As both infant mortality and fertility rates decline, sub-Saharan Africa will become the main source of new entrants into the global labor force,” the report reads. “In fact, by 2035, the number of Africans joining the working age population (ages 15–64) will exceed that from the rest of the world combined.”

These are big figures. While over 10 million people are currently joining the African labor market each year, the U.S. labor force is projected to increase by a similar amount in the next decade. And population statistics show that between 2012 and 2037, the UK’s working population will grow by 4.8 million. In Sub-Saharan Africa in 2035, there will be an extra 100 million peoplereaching the working age.

Put another way, the working age population of Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to triple to 1.25 billion by 2050. But, when it comes to growth of the global labor force as a whole, expectations point towards a slowdown. The IMF says growth will be at lessthan 1% a year in the 2020s, compared with 1.7% annually during the 1990s.

It’s these differing statistics which have caused the International Labor Organization to call for a focus on countries on the African continent.

“African countries need a more efficient, job-intensive growth pattern,” says Aeneas Chapinga Chuma, regional director for Africa at the International Labor Organization. “We cannot measure our success by growth alone. Employment creation must be a recognized target of macroeconomic policies.”

Demographic dividend

When it looks like the working age population of a region is set to grow, economists and analysts talk of the “demographic dividend.” Put simply, this means that when the number of able-bodied workers goes up, so does economic growth.

When studying the concept, many point to Asia’s growth as proof. “Favorable demographics can explain much of East Asia’s spectacular economic growth in the second half of the twentieth century,” writes Donghyun Park in Aging, Economic Growth, and Old-age Security in Asia.

In fact, some researchers say 33% of economic growth in East Asia between 1965 and 1990 is down to demographics.

And experts have been looking at how this model is having an impact across the African continent — home to seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world.

“While African economies are generating more income, that income has to be shared among an ever-increasing number of people,” writes Brookings Fellow Laurence Chandy. “Since the region’s income is growing faster than its population, average incomes are rising and the share of Africans living in extreme poverty is falling — from 60% in 1996 to 47% in 2011.”

So how can that trend be sped up, so that those entering the working age bracket find opportunities? There are many answers to that question, but one proposal suggests that rather than reinvent the wheel, we need to make the existing wheel work harder.

“The main engine of growth that is not working very well in Africa is the agriculture ‘engine,'” explains Amadou Sy, Senior Fellow at the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institute. “By developing productivity in agriculture, other sectors can develop in tandem through the value chain. Take quinoa, for example. It used to be made into flour, but these days it is a global super-food which is supporting people who make boxes in the manufacturing sector as well as finance and transportation jobs in the services sector. There is a lot of scope where it comes to agriculture, to grow productivity in Africa which would benefit other sectors of the economy.”

Source of Jobs

Conceptually, this all makes sense. A bigger pie, more mouths to feed, but the bakers are more or less managing to keep pace with the eaters. But those who have concerns have pointed to the fact that people under the age of 25 account for about 60% of total unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa.

Besides straight unemployment, a major issue for Africa’s job-seekers is “vulnerable employment.” According to the IMF, the informal sector provides 90% of the 400 million jobs in low-income sub-Saharan African countries. These jobs often mean cash-in-hand, or working without pay for a family member. They very rarely mean stability or a pension.

Others have concerns about how a widening gap in the demand and supply for jobs might hit social stability, as research shows that 40% of those who join rebel movements are motivated by a lack of jobs.

“Unemployment makes young people grow increasingly desperate,” says Andrews Atta-Asamoah senior researcher for the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa. “What we are seeing at the moment in Africa is a trend of radicalization among young people. The rise in radicalization has led to rise in recruitments into radical groups. Even though ideology plays a significant role, it is also striking to note that many of such young people recruited by groups with radical political goals are unemployed.”

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