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Sticking to the Facts: Official and Unofficial Stories about Poverty and Unemployment in South Africa

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  • Charles Meth

    ()
    (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

Abstract

Abstract: The major cause of poverty is unemployment. This paper looks at aspects of the way government responds to claims that are made, chiefly by academics, about poverty and unemployment. Official statistics on poverty and unemployment enjoy little favour among senior politicians and civil servants. ‘Unofficial’ poverty and unemployment statistics, by contrast, are seized upon with enthusiasm if they contradict the gloomy picture created by numbers that suggest (with monotonous regularity) that improvements in the lives of the poor are not happening fast enough. The first part of the paper explores possible explanations of government’s extreme sensitivity to criticism. The second part of the paper looks at an old chestnut, the repeated claim by government that the severity of the unemployment problem has (in part?) to do with the ‘fact’ that the number of economically active people has grown faster than the number of working age people. The third part of the paper looks briefly at the van der Berg et al (2005) poverty reduction estimates for the period 2000-2004 (they have the headcount falling from 18.5 to 15.4 million), before reproducing my estimates for the period 2001-2004 (the headcount falls from about 19.5 to somewhere in the region of 18 million. Suggestions are offered for the proper academic conduct upon releasing contentious results into a highly-charged political debate.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit in its series Working Papers with number 07123.

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Length: 65 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Working Paper Series by the Development Policy Research Unit, June 2007, pages 1-65
Handle: RePEc:ctw:wpaper:07123

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Related research

Keywords: poverty; unemployment; South Africa; statistics;

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References

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  1. Angus Deaton, 2005. "Measuring Poverty in a Growing World (or Measuring Growth in a Poor World)," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(1), pages 1-19, February.
  2. Charles Meth, 2004. "Half Measures: The ANC's Unemployment and Poverty Reduction Goals," Working Papers, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit 04089, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
  3. Rulof Burger & Derek Yu, 2007. "Wage Trends in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Constructing an Earnings Series from Household Survey Data," Working Papers, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit 07117, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
  4. Ravi Kanbur, 2004. "Growth, Inequality And Poverty: Some Hard Questions," Working Papers, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore 157, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.
  5. Ravallion, Martin, 2001. "Measuring aggregate welfare in developing countries - How well do national accounts and surveys agree?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2665, The World Bank.
  6. Geeta G. Kingdon & John B. Knight, 2000. "Are searching and non-searching unemployment distinct states when unemployment is high? The case of South Africa," CSAE Working Paper Series 2000-02, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
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Cited by:
  1. Charles Meth, 2007. "Flogging a dead horse: Attempts by van der Berg et al to measure changes in poverty and inequality," SALDRU Working Papers 9, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  2. Frederick C.v.N. Fourie, 2011. "The South African unemployment debate: three worlds, three discourses?," SALDRU Working Papers 63, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.

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