The Working Poor: 70% of workers in SSA are in vulnerable employment

Poverty is a global challenge but in Africa, it is a growing and persistent one; nagging at the face of every sector. There is a global consensus that breaking the cycle of poverty involves getting decent work and full employment. While there is a direct relationship between unemployment and poverty, the lines separating poverty and underemployment are blurry as the percentage of the working poor greatly outnumber the out-of-job population.

The poverty rate in Africa is alarming and it said to mostly be as a result of unemployment, however, a person can barely survive without being employed; formal and informal, many Africans cannot afford to be idle and as a result, they settle for whatever pays the bills.

Nearly half of the 3 billion global working population are in vulnerable employment and the situation is worse in Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 70 percent of workers are in vulnerable employment against the global average of 46.3 percent. These are the people mostly classified as the working poor.

The working poor are those in the labour force whose incomes fall below a given poverty line due to low wages. Despite being in the labour force, these poor people are faced with numerous obstacles that impede their transition from poverty to a better living standard. It is just like a rat race, you keep going in circles. However, the trouble with being in a rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.

Working poverty is not evenly distributed among employment sectors as the majority of the working poor are in the informal sector. However, this does not automatically erase poverty from the formal sector because a significant portion of the working poor are also in white-collar jobs.

Presently, the informal sector contributes 50-80 percent of GDP, 60-80 percent of employment and 90 percent of new jobs. Informal sector workers have no job security, minimal benefits, very low pay and the inability to rent a befitting house, even though they constitute the highest percentange of labour force contributing to the economy.

Factors Contributing to Working Poverty

The obvious and central factor is money. However, money houses a branch of other factors including, proximity to employment. There are four major categories of risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing working poverty: educational background, family background, demography and economic factors.

Generally, the poorly educated are more likely than others to be poor. The only way to escape poverty for the undereducated/uneducated is to earn added skills but since the majority of the firms and organisations, especially in Africa care more about certifications and qualifications, the likelihood of escaping poverty is grim.

When it comes to demography, proximity to employment can influence a range of economic outcomes as residents of slums experience declines in job proximity. Since they cannot afford to rent or buy a house close to their employment, these people spend a significant amount on transportation.

According to Brookings, people who live closer to jobs are more likely to work, face shorter job searches and spells of joblessness. Little wonder, many of Africa’s talent are migrating to seek better employment opportunities and escape from the increasing working poor population.

A person’s family background contributes minimally to a person being in the working-poor category. Nonetheless, it contributes to the¬†cycle of poverty; a set of factors or events by which poverty, once started, is likely to continue unless there is outside intervention. Being part of a large household or a single-earner household has also been found to be important working poverty risk factors.

Most developing countries define a national poverty line based on the cost of basic needs. In Uganda, the national poverty is based on a minimum daily calorie intake of 3,000 kcal per adult, while for Kenya and Tanzania a person is poor if their daily calorie intake is less than 2,250 kcal and 2,200 kcal respectively.

Poverty is a multidimensional social phenomenon and its definitions vary by gender, age, culture, and the World Bank says that a person that lives below $2 per day is poor, but if you are working and cannot meet the basic social needs, consider yourself among the working poor.