PRESS RELEASE: Young people have to choose between looking for work and buying food - Youth Capital
What does it really cost young people to look for work?
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PRESS RELEASE: Young people have to choose between looking for work and buying food

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Latest research by advocacy campaign Youth Capital confirms that eight in 10 young South Africans have to choose between looking for work and buying food because of the high cost of job hunting, quantified around R1469 per month, according to Youth Capital’s Beyond the Cost research brief launched today.

Building on insights from the Siyakha Study and the 2022 Beyond the Cost, Youth Capital partnered with leading recruitment platform JOBJACK, to carry out this online survey. ‘The cost of looking for work is one of the reasons why young people give up hunting for opportunities; for this reason, it has been the focus of a number of state-led interventions. We surveyed over 10 000 young respondents to understand whether this cost is decreasing or not. Findings indicate that the barriers to employment are too insurmountable for young people and lock them out of economic activity; reducing them is of critical urgency for getting young people into the labour market’ says Kristal Duncan-Williams, Project Lead at Youth Capital.

The latest census highlights that nearly four in 10 people in South Africa are between the ages of 15 and 35, yet four in 10 of these young people are locked out of the labour market – they’re not in education, employment or training. Those who are employed, might not stay in those positions for a long time. Insights from a longitudinal income survey by Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator confirm that, between survey rounds, only about half of those in wage employment remain employed, and about one in four of self-employed stay in self-employment opportunities; at the same time, close to three in four of those unemployed remain unemployed.

Beyond the Cost surfaces five key insights.

  1. Job-seeking costs are still high: the survey shows that young job-seekers spend an average of R700 per month on transport alone; with the addition of data and application costs, respondents reported spending an average of R1469 to look for work every month. ‘Research shows that transport costs are highly unequal, being rooted in the unequal spatial development of South African cities. The majority of young people live far from economic centres, and are forced to pause job-seeking because they can’t afford the high costs of transport and data’ adds Duncan-Williams.
  2. Family and friends support job-seekers: The survey results indicate that seven in 10 young people rely on family or friends living with them for funds to look for work. Moreover, three in 10 respondents reported relying on some form of social grants including the Social Relief of Distress grant to support their job-seeking efforts. ‘This insight is concerning, given that nearly three in 10 South Africans live in extreme poverty, on less than R35 per day. To make matters worse, five in 10 South Africans are reliant on some form of social grant to make ends meet’ adds Duncan-Williams.  Youth Capital’s 2022 Beyond the Cost survey showed that eight in 10 respondents had to choose between looking for a job and buying food, and this has not changed in 2023. Job-seeking is clearly in conflict with meeting the basic needs of entire households.
  3. Looking for work takes time: the majority of the survey respondents say that it takes them an average of six months to look for employment.  While the Quarterly Labour Force Survey data shows that 74% of young jobseekers have been looking for work for more than one year.
  4. Data-free platforms work:  the survey results show an uptake in the use of data-free platforms, with seven in 10 respondents having used one of these platforms to apply for a job, and of these eight in 10 confirmed that using this platform made job-seeking less expensive.
  5. Job-seekers need support: the survey asked young people what type of assistance they wanted when looking for a job. Nearly six in 10 requested assistance with job-seeking, and the bulk of these were requests for any job, specifically located near where they live; the support requests also related to the online application process, and a preference for secure and trusted platforms for application submissions to avoid scams.  This insight underpinned three further themes around the importance of work experience, the need for economic opportunities closer to home and the importance of social networks

Read the insights here.


These insights underline the following five recommendations:

  • Continue to support young job-seekers through cash transfers
  • Leverage public employment programmes for work experience and economic development
  • Improved infrastructure to increase social mobility and cohesion
  • Amplify the impact of tax incentives and relax trading regulations
  • Provide relevant job-seeking support through employee incentives and revitalisation of public employment programmes.

The unemployment crisis is rooted in a variety of complex and intersecting issues such as spatial, social and economic exclusion. Young job-seekers don’t only require the right set of skills or contacts; but also the financial resources to stay actively looking for vacancies, applying for jobs and travelling to physically meet potential employers in structured interviews.

‘The future of the South African economy depends on its ability to allow easier access to the labour market for young people’ adds Duncan-Williams.

Read the brief here.

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