Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The High Cost of Unemployment

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I don’t read the news very diligently.  Back in the U.S., I used to criticize my students for failing to keep up with current events.  But since moving to Africa I have become a hypocrite.  On my recent trip to Lesotho, my travelling companion read three papers in one afternoon while I was driving.  I told him, “I really don’t keep up with the news because so little of what is in there actually affects me.  But if you see anything important you think I should know please tell me.”  He did not have anything of note to report.

The way I look at it, there is very little which happens in the world which affects my existence right now.  My primary daily concerns center around:  Is there electricity?  If there is how long will it be available so I can do work?  If we lose electricity what ‘other work’ can I do in order to justify my salary and professional standing?  Is there water today?  If there is water is there enough so I can take a sponge bath?  Will there be enough so I can finally wash my hair?  (It’s been five days; sorry, I know that’s kind of gross.)  Is there any fresh food at the grocery store?  Nope, no fresh food.  Ok, will it be canned tuna fish, avocados and potato chips? Or should I splurge and go for rice cakes and peanut butter?

The newspapers here tend to offer a rather slanted view of reality, mostly because they tend to play to the opinions of the publisher funding the paper.  But from time to time, when the electricity is available, I do look online at the international media outlets.  There were two articles I read today which I found interesting and contradictory.  One was about unemployment in the U.S.  The other was about unemployment in Nigeria.

The U.S. article boasted that the unemployment rate had dropped in 43 states in January, reducing the national unemployment to 6.6%.  Of course, the article wasn’t particularly transparent in admitting that a significant reason for this dip was that baby boomers are retiring in record numbers.  Technically, labor force participation is at its lowest since 1977 and long-term unemployment is at an all-time high.  I guess it’s a good thing we have lots of old people who are getting ready to retire, thus allowing that unemployment rate to continue looking optimistic.

Of course, things could be worse in U.S. employment news.  We can at least be thankful we aren’t Nigeria.  However, things are pretty desperate when you compare yourself to Nigeria.

Over the weekend 16 people were killed in Nigeria during job fairs across the country.  The government opened up 4,500 jobs and directed interested applicants to report to the nearest of five designated locations to apply.  More than half a million (500,000) people showed up, prompting stampedes which resulted in hundreds of injuries and 16 deaths.

One of the job recruitment locations was the Abuja National Stadium.  According to a report, only ONE (1) entrance to the 60,000 seat stadium was open.  More than 65,000 applicants squeezed their way into the stadium, and then when people began rushing the registration area many were trampled and trapped, unable to depart the stadium as all but ONE (1) exit was blocked.  In case you haven’t read my blog post about security in Africa, please check it out here, as these types of security measures are commonplace and often more detrimental than beneficial.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate stands at 23.9%, thus I can understand the efforts made by those at the job fairs.  While I am sympathetic, Nigeria’s Minister of the Interior seemed considerably less-so when he stated the victims “lost their lives through their impatience.”


  1. Not going to retire , I will go down fighting. They will have to carry me out!

    1. So you are going to cause a stampede on your way out of a job? Not trying to get it? HAHA. :) Excellent.

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