Reality Check: Are 90% of Zimbabweans unemployed?

There are a lot of figures for the rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe doing the rounds, from 95% to 5%, which is surely the biggest range you’ll see for estimates of any indicator.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, quoted a figure of 90% on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show last week.

So why is there such a range? It depends largely on what definition of unemployment you use.

The most recent Labour Force Survey from the Zimbabwe statistics authority Zimstat covers figures for 2014.

It gives the unemployment rate – that’s the proportion of people over the age of 15 who are available to work but are not working – as 11.3%.

That’s not ridiculously high. The corresponding figure in neighbouring South Africa in 2014 was 24.9%.

New rules

Zimstat told Reality Check that the reason the 2014 figures are relatively low is that they included people like subsistence farmers, who consume all their own output, as employed.

Their rules have now changed and when they do their next labour force survey such people will be counted as being unemployed, which should lead to a sharp increase in the rate.

Zimstat was supposed to be conducting another survey this year but “resource constraints” prevented that from happening. They now hope to conduct another one in 2018.

There is an even lower estimate than 11.3%. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) calculated it at 5.2% for 2016.

But that is a figure for strict unemployment, which means somebody must have been without work, available for work and actively seeking work. The broader definition does not require somebody to be seeking work.

In the 2014 Zimstat report, the strict unemployment figure was 4.8%. The ILO used that figure and information about things such as company closures to come to a 2016 figure of 5.2%.

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Informal economy

At the other end of the scale look at this article from Forbes Magazine in March this year. The headline reads: “Congratulations To Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe’s Unemployment Rate Now 95%.”

The author is suggesting that 95% of the economically active people in the country are out of work.

Where has this figure come from? Handily, the author links to the source of this data, an article in the New York Times.

But the New York Times is clear that the…

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