We’re sitting on a time bomb

We are really sitting on a time bomb when it comes to unemployment.

As Socialist Party 2021 presidential candidate Dr Fred M’membe aptly put in Ndola last Friday, “Most people rely on work in order to earn a living. It may be formal employment, earning a wage in exchange for labour, or it may be through some form of self-employment such as small-scale farming. Either way, there are very few people who do not have to work for a living. One of the main tasks of an economy, therefore, is to ensure that there are enough jobs, or opportunities to work, to meet people’s need to earn a living. Where there’s high unemployment we have an indication of an unjust economy. One of the main reasons for our high rates of poverty is the failure of the economy to provide sufficient jobs. Joblessness is an extremely serious problem in Zambia today. In order to derive a benefit from an economy, people must be able to participate in it; and for most people, the primary means of economic participation is through work. Indeed throughout human history it has been a basic norm that all are expected to work, and thereby to contribute to the economy. Those who refuse to do so, for no good reason, have generally been excluded from the benefits of the economy. However, if society expects its members to work and to contribute, then it should make it possible for them to do so. In this regard a profound responsibility rests on both the political authorities and those who hold powerful positions in the economy. Everything possible needs to be done to maximise job opportunities. And where the choice is between greater profits and greater employment, the latter must be chosen. In Zambia today this is a matter of great urgency. We have too many economically active people without work. As long as this remains the case, there can be no hope of achieving a secure and prosperous future for our people. Very high unemployment rates mean that each worker now has to support not only his or her own dependents, but another worker and his or her dependents as well. Thus, unemployment affects not only those without jobs, but also those who have work. In consequence, the poverty and the rich/poor gap can only be exacerbated. Furthermore, such a scale of unemployment acts as a huge drain on the state’s resources, further reducing its ability to provide much-needed social services. The harm caused by unemployment is by no means limited to material matters; there’s also an enormous social cost.

While simplistic deductions must be avoided, there can be no doubt that a connection exists between high rates of unemployment and the distressing high incidences of crime, family breakdown, domestic violence, gangsterism, and drug and alcohol abuse which beset our society. Many of these social problems in turn impact negatively on the economy, resulting in a vicious circle which will only be broken by the provision of jobs.”

Clearly, unemployment affects the unemployed individual and his family, not only with respect to income, but also with respect to health and mortality. Moreover, the effects linger for decades. The effects of unemployment on the economy are equally severe. It is said that a 1 per cent increase in unemployment reduces the GDP by 2 per cent.

The consequences for an unemployed individual are both grave and long-lasting.

It’s also bad for your health.

Unemployed workers die more than a year earlier than average. Long-lasting consequences extend to the families of unemployed workers, as well.

The longer the unemployment goes on, the more severe the health consequences, with increased depression and other health issues worsening over time. In addition to the obvious loss of income, unemployed workers were found to have lost friends and self-respect.

Also, the longer the unemployment goes on it becomes more difficult for the worker to find employment again — both because employers are wary of the long-time unemployed and also because over time, unemployed workers lose job skills.

What is more worrying is that we are not hearing more from those in power on jobs. Right now it is only Dr M’membe and the Socialist Party that are consistently talking about jobs in an articulated way.

Yet this is the greatest challenge, problem, dilemma of our time!

We are really sitting on time bomb!

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