355 000

CityPress - - Business - DEWALD VAN RENS­BURG dewald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

Prom­i­nent aca­demic economists are scratch­ing their heads af­ter the shock an­nounce­ment by Stats SA that 355 000 jobs dis­ap­peared between the end of last year and the end of March this year.

There is a real pos­si­bil­ity that it is a sta­tis­ti­cal gl­itch, but it is hard to know for sure ei­ther way.

The in­tro­duc­tion of a new “mas­ter sam­ple” last year, from which the house­holds sur­veyed in the Quar­terly Labour Force Sur­vey are drawn, caused strange jumps in the num­bers last year.

It was based on the Cen­sus 2011 and made the sam­ple give more weight to Gaut­eng and some min­ing ar­eas, among other things.

Martin Wit­ten­berg, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town (UCT) and head of its DataFirst pro­ject, said he was “on the fence”.

“If I was a bet­ting per­son, which I’m gen­er­ally not, I would bet on a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of the lost jobs be­ing due to the new mas­ter sam­ple,” he told City Press.

More ev­i­dence was needed be­fore judge­ment could be passed on the new num­bers, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Wit­ten­berg, it might be that the new sam­ple re­sulted in more “volatile” es­ti­mates.

“But I have no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that this has hap­pened,” he em­pha­sised.

In­grid Woolard, another prom­i­nent UCT pro­fes­sor and labour econ­o­mist, said that the num­bers were “sur­pris­ing”, but that she had not had a chance to in­ves­ti­gate them.

There is of­ten a drop in the num­ber of em­ployed peo­ple in the first quar­ter of the year re­lated to the end of sea­sonal jobs in re­tail and hospi­tal­ity. How­ever, the drop was com­pletely out of pro­por­tion this year.

Neva Makgetla from the think-tank Trade and In­dus­trial Pol­icy Strate­gies said the job loss fig­ure “seems un­re­li­able”, but prob­a­bly re­flected the true state of af­fairs af­ter last year’s sta­tis­tics over­es­ti­mated em­ploy­ment.

Some of the big shifts in es­ti­mated jobs were just un­re­al­is­tic, she ar­gued.

The sta­tis­tics show, for in­stance, that more than 10% of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs in the West­ern Cape dis­ap­peared, as did 20% of con­struc­tion jobs in Mpumalanga, 11% of re­tail jobs in Gaut­eng and 17% of “busi­ness ser­vice” jobs in the East­ern Cape.

“Ob­vi­ously, it seems un­likely this kind of blood­bath could have oc­curred with­out sig­nif­i­cantly more ef­fects on com­mu­ni­ties and work­ers. So what is re­ally go­ing on? The short an­swer is we can’t tell, be­cause of sta­tis­ti­cal prob­lems,” Makgetla wrote in a pol­icy brief.

“The Quar­terly Labour Force Sur­vey has been a high-qual­ity sur­vey for most of the past few years, and a credit to Stats SA. It would be de­sir­able if Stats SA pub­lished its own anal­y­sis of what went wrong with the lat­est re­port,” said Makgetla.

Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral and head of Stats SA Pali Le­hohla dis­missed sug­ges­tions that changes to the mas­ter sam­ple dis­torted the num­bers.

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