Labour Force Survey 2011: Official unemployment rate at 6%

Opportunities for women, rural areas rising; minister doubts the figures.

Shahbaz Rana August 02, 2011


The official rate of unemployment in Pakistan is 6%, according to government statistics released on Monday that also show job opportunities for women and people in rural areas are rising while those for men and people living in urban areas are dropping.

The Federal Bureau of Statistics released the Pakistan Labour Force Survey 2011 on Monday, which shows the unemployment rate rising to 6% in July 2011, compared to 5.6% a year ago. The size of the total workforce was 57.3 million.

The total number of unemployed rose by 280,000 people during the past year to 3.4 million.

While the government’s credibility among independent economists has increased in recent years about some statistics, unemployment figures are routinely mocked as being grossly inaccurate.

In private conversation, even Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Nadeemul Haq admit the numbers do not reflect reality, though they have declined to say so publicly and appear to have taken no actions to produce more realistic figures.

Nevertheless, the numbers do reveal some interesting patterns, even if the precise figures are unreliable. Unemployment for women, for example, declined from 9.5% last year to 8.9% this year. The corresponding figures for men rose from 4.4% to 5.1%.

In absolute terms, the number of unemployed women decreased to 1.18 million from 1.21 million. The number of jobless men increased to 2.22 million from 1.91 million.

The rise of employment opportunities is a welcome sign in a country that has historically had a cultural bias against female participation in the workforce.

Unemployment in rural areas declined from 4.8% to 4.7%, a reflection of strong growth in agricultural commodity prices and consistent government support for several crops such as wheat.

Urban areas, meanwhile, saw unemployment rise to 8.8%, from 7.2% last year, as the energy crisis continues to cripple most businesses in cities and towns with rising costs, forcing them to lay off people or slow their hiring plans.

Yet surprisingly, the share of the labour force employed by the manufacturing sector rose to 13.7% of the workforce, up from 13.2% last year, suggesting that Pakistani industries have found ways to mitigate the effects of the power shortage and have started hiring again.

Even more surprising is the fact that the only province that saw a fall in unemployment is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which has been badly affected by violence and terrorism.

The agriculture sector continues to be the largest employer, with 45.1% of the workforce working on farms and with livestock, three-quarters of whom are women.

About 34% of the labour force is described as people who either own their own business or work as independent contractors or day labourers with no fixed employer. Another 36% of workers have a permanent employer.

Approximately 27.7% of people are described as ‘aligned with family businesses’, a figure that many labour economists suspect is where the government hides the true number of people unemployed, since it includes people who are not actively working and not receiving any compensation.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2011.

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