Before you vote: The truth about unemployment rates

Is the unemployment rate the highest its ever been?

“…. They are lying (Jubilee party) that jobs will be created for the youth. I want to tell you, the unemployment rate is the highest in Kenya’s history…So, and you the youth have an obligation to remove the Jubilee government because it has not created enough jobs for you…. ”


-        NASA Co-Principal Musalia Mudavadi at a Rally in Kitale on June 22

Kenya has among the highest youth unemployment rates, a 2016 World Bank report found. Unemployment among Kenya’s youth aged 15-24 stood at 17 per cent compared to six per cent for both Uganda and Tanzania, according to the report.  

In other words, one of six Kenyan youth is unemployed, a ratio that is almost triple Kenya’s two neighbours.

In 2016, the economy generated a total of 832,900 new jobs of which 85,600 or 10 per cent were in the modern sector while 747,300 or 90 per cent were in the informal sector, according to the 2017 Economic Survey.

New jobs created in the modern sector, which is the source of well-paying jobs, dropped drastically by a third in 2016, compared to the previous year.

In his Labour Day speech, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that in the last full year, wage employment in Kenya has grown by over 11 per cent.  But data from the latest Economic Survey shows that wage employment in the modern sector grew by a meagre three per cent from 2,478,000 in 2015 to 2,554,300 in 2016.


According to the Commission for Higher Education, there were 71,347 university graduates in 2015, equivalent to 57 per cent of jobs created in the modern sector in the same year. They had to compete for the job with college graduates from the same year and also those who had graduated earlier.

It is estimated that about 800,000 youth enter the labour market every year, which is equal to 96 per cent of all jobs created in 2016.

“Kenya’s growing labour force is not being put to productive use, which in turn is hurting growth,” according to a World Bank report titled:  Kenya Country Economic Memorandum: From economic growth to jobs and shared prosperity.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the unemployment rate among youthaged 15-24  has stagnated between 17.1 and 17.6 per cent since 1995.

In 2015, the last year for which data was available, it was 17.6 per cent, the same as the previous year.

Statistics from the International Labour Organisation show that the national overall unemployment rate is 11 per cent.

The  unemployment rate is high especially among the youth  but based on the data analysed here and with no public data available on -year-on-year unemployment from official government sources, it is not possible to conclude that unemployment in Kenya is at its highest ever.