Kenya: 13 Million Out of Work as Covid-19 Worsens Crisis

2 September 2020

The unemployment crisis has worsened with at least 13 million people out of work, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In what is likely to complicate Kenya's job crisis, two reports by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) show that the jobs crisis deepened between May and June. In this period, the proportion of Kenyans out of work has increased from 49.9 percent to 61.9 per cent.

This means six in every ten individuals are now unemployed.

To put these percentages into perspective, the 2019 census put Kenya's economically active population at 22.3 million. If 61.9 per cent of these have been rendered jobless by the pandemic, then this works out to about 13.8million people.

Two government surveys also highlight how the pandemic has hit households hard, revealing an increase in the number of rent defaulters and commuters unable to pay exorbitant transport fares resorting to walking.

The first survey was conducted between May 2 and May 9 while the second covered between May 30 and June 6, 2020.

Not sure when to return

In May nine in every ten persons who were absent from work due to the stay away decree or lockdown were not sure when they would be returning to work.

The picture improved slightly in June, with about eight out of ten or 77.8percent of the individuals who were absent from work not sure when they would resume.

Almost a half (48.5 per cent) of the respondents were working employers and own account workers while only (35 percent) were paid employees.

Four in every ten males were in paid employment compared to about three out of ten of the females.

Almost half of the respondents who were absent from work blamed the lockdown or stay away instructions by the government or their employers.

Respondents were asked to report the economic activity they were engaged in seven days preceding the survey, the industry they worked in and the number of hours they worked.

Those who were absent from work were asked to provide the reasons for absence and when they expected to return to work.

Increase in prices

The Covid-19 pandemic has also seen an increase in prices of essential services. Bus fare has been one of the biggest cost increments due to the Covid-19 restrictions. To deal with the reduced passenger numbers in every vehicle due to the social distance requirements, players in the public transport sector raised fare by at least 50 per cent.

The KNBS report found that there has been a 51.7 per cent increase in the cost of transport in the country.

Migori County recorded the highest increase while Turkana County recorded the least at 77.2 percent and 24.4 percent respectively.

Nationally, a third of households in Kenya were unable to pay rent on the date agreed with the house owner.

The survey found that at least 21.5 per cent of the households who usually paid rent on the agreed dates breached the agreement in April.

Unable to pay rent

The situation worsened in May and June, where more people were unable to pay rent.

Defaulters increased from about 30 per cent of the population in April to 37 percent in May. Only a third of the population paid rent on time. This means it is a bad time to be a rental property owner, especially if you have a bank loan.

Most (61 percent) of the households that were unable to pay rent cited reduced income as the main reason for defaulting.

The pandemic has led to massive retrenchments and pay cuts. Property owners became less generous, with those that gave waivers reducing from 8.7 percent in the first wave of the report to only 0.7 percent at the end of May.

Findings from the survey show that 18.2 per cent of the households reported having at least one individual with a pre-existing medical condition.

Out of these households, 35 percent indicated having a member with high blood pressure or hypertension. A further 19.1 percent and 15 percent reported allergies and diabetes, respectively.

Health services

In the first wave, one out of eight households reported that a member sought health services during the period under review with majority (30.5 per cent) seeking the services from government hospital.

The report showed that nationally, 78.1 per cent of households reported to be food secure.

About four out of five of the households indicated that there was an increase in food prices due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Approximately 77.6 per cent of the households reported having no challenges in accessing markets or grocery stores to purchase food items.

Countrywide, 65.8 per cent of the surveyed households reported to have at least one member who usually attended a learning institution.

Self-learning at home was reported as the main coping mechanism used by majority (57.5per cent) of these households.

However, 17 per cent of households with members who usually attended a learning institution were not using any method to continue with learning.

In May, 24.6 per cent of households with members who usually attended a learning institution were not using any method to continue with learning.

Cut on spending

To mitigate the financial distress caused by the pandemic, majority (41.9 per cent) of the households cut on financial spending on non-essential commodities. A notable proportion of individuals (36.7 percent) did not take any measures to overcome the financial distress caused by Covid-19.

Almost a quarter (24.1 per cent) of people aged 18 years and above who were servicing a loan had successfully renegotiated repayment terms.

The proportion of households that reported to have received cash transfers from relatives or friends since the virus was reported in the country stood at 18.4 per cent.

Overall, 23.6 per cent of the respondents reported to have witnessed or heard cases of domestic violence in their communities. Majority (72.5 percent) of the households reported Covid-19 as their main cause of worry while 21.6 per cent were mainly worried about food security.

The National Coordination Committee on the Response to the Corona Virus Pandemic was tasked to, among other things, undertake a household economic impact assessment that would provide data to facilitate an appropriate response. The KNBS was tasked to undertake the surveys. Majority of respondents (64.8percent) were aged between 18 and 39 years.

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