South Africa has one of many highest unemployment charges in the world. This was true even earlier than unemployment elevated because of the worldwide monetary disaster in 2008. And earlier than COVID-19.

The nation’s youth unemployment fee is even higher than the average. The (youth) employment tax incentive was speculated to assist in addressing the issue. The incentive was adopted by Parliament in 2013 and got here into impact in 2014. The unique incentive supplied to scale back the tax invoice of companies that employed new employees between the ages of 18 and 29 who earned beneath R6,000 per thirty days (US$400). The thought was that decreasing the efficient price of hiring younger employees, by subsidising as much as 50% of their wage, would result in companies creating extra jobs for this group.

The coverage was renewed in 2016 for an additional three years. And in 2018, shortly after Cyril Ramaphosa turned president, it was prolonged for an extra 10. The increased age restrict was raised to 35. And it was made relevant to all new staff of companies working in ‘particular financial zones’ no matter age. There are currently 11 formally designated such zones.

The adoption and implementation of the coverage has been cited as a hit story in two respects. Firstly, as a triumph of evidence in public policy formulation. Secondly, as an effective approach to reducing unemployment that should be expanded.

In a not too long ago published paper I argue that the primary declare is fake and the second declare isn’t supported by present proof.

The evaluation means that the choices to undertake, lengthen and broaden the coverage had been based mostly on misrepresentations of the proof obtainable on the time. This was accompanied by concealing or downplaying the doable weaknesses and dangers of the coverage.

On high of this, the presently obtainable proof doesn’t convincingly present any substantial impact on job creation. That means the motivation is successfully a subsidy to the income of firms, so it’s rising societal inequality relatively than decreasing it.

Where it began

The concept that decreasing wages may improve employment appears pretty apparent. But it faces quite a lot of severe challenges.

Loads has to do with the construction of the financial system. If most unemployment within the nation is ‘structural’ – which it’s in South Africa – then merely decreasing the direct price of labour might have little impact.

Structural elements embody lots of the legacies of apartheid and colonialism:

  • distance from work alternatives in city areas

  • the sectoral construction of the financial system and a scarcity of competitors in some sectors

  • lack of expertise or poor high quality training, and,

  • varied different dimensions of poverty that forestall working-age adults from absolutely collaborating within the financial system.

Historically, those that have favoured wage subsidies are likely to one in every of two positions. They both downplay such elements and as an alternative emphasise the position of commerce unions in pushing up wages. Or they argue {that a} subsidy can offset the damaging results of structural elements on companies’ employment selections.

While such debates have been taking place for many years, the present employment tax incentive emerged from the work of a bunch of American economists appointed by then-president Thabo Mbeki to advise on financial progress. Their final report in 2008 endorsed the concept of a youth wage subsidy within the type of a voucher of fastened worth for all youth 18 and older that might subsidise their wage at any employer, on the situation that employers be allowed to fireplace such employees with out having to supply causes.

One panel member elaborated on that concept after which partnered with a bunch of researchers on the University of the Witwatersrand to check a model of it with an experiment funded principally by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (often called ‘3ie’).

Experiments of this sort have been claimed by some influential economists to be essentially the most credible type of proof there may be for policymaking, however that declare is susceptible to a range of criticisms.


Read extra: Randomised trials in economics: what the critics have to say


The fundamental function of the wage subsidy experiment was to estimate how responsive employment was to a subsidy. Whether such a coverage is cost-effective is dependent upon what number of new jobs are created due to the cash spent.

As far again as 2008, the then Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, had already endorsed the concept of a youth wage subsidy based mostly on the panel’s report. In 2011 the National Treasury produced a lengthy policy document which additionally endorsed the fundamental thought. It projected that 178,000 new jobs can be created over three years at a price of R5billion.

The drawback with the Treasury’s work, and subsequent academic modelling, was that to make such forecasts it needed to assume the reply to the basic query: how employment responds to a subsidy. In the face of opposition to the coverage from commerce unions specifically, authorities endorsed the concept of an experiment to check this assumption.

In the lead-up to the choice on the coverage proposal by Parliament in 2013 the lead researcher behind the experiment claimed within the press that it had proven the subsidy can be a hit:

If a wage subsidy related in measurement to the one examined is launched … about 88,000 new jobs can be created a yr.

And the National Treasury referenced the constructive ends in the 2013 Budget Review.

What the proof actually says

A close analysis of the experiment and its findings exhibits that the examine didn’t present proof that supported the wage subsidy.

Besides many different limitations, the experimental intervention was very totally different from the motivation and its major findings might simply as simply have been the results of elements apart from job creation. The nature of the connection between the researchers and the Treasury, mirrored within the researchers’ ‘coverage affect plan’, recommended a shared want to justify the coverage proposal, relatively than an goal effort to establish whether or not it might work.

And the examine has by no means been printed in any peer-reviewed outlet. All of which contradicts claims that the intervention demonstrates the worth of randomised coverage experiments in creating nations.

The course of to evaluation the coverage in 2016 was additionally deeply flawed. Again, research that had been accomplished in collaboration with the Treasury had been cited as exhibiting that the coverage was a hit. But, once more, these weren’t printed for scrutiny earlier than Parliament took its choice.

What ought to occur

Since 1994 ANC governments have acknowledged their ambition to position South Africa as a ‘developmental state’, together with within the National Development Plan. One of the vital traits of such states elsewhere is their capability to study from errors, which features a willingness to scrap failed or ineffective insurance policies.

Such an method ought to apply to the wage subsidy coverage. Instead of decreasing unemployment the coverage seems to be serving as a pricey subsidy to already-profitable companies for workers they might have employed anyway. If the true precedence is addressing unemployment and the federal government is severe about being a profitable developmental state, the coverage ought to be ended and the assets directed elsewhere.

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