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August 2015

Africa’s Hidden Underemployment Sink

Ellen McCullough's picture

Labor productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa has been garnering attention recently. Development economists focus on labor productivity because it tends to be strongly associated with overall well-being measures, especially for the poor, who are reliably endowed with time, but often little else in the way of productive assets.
Cross-sector gaps in labor productivity are key indicators of structural change, which is the economy-wide process by which labor shifts from low-productivity industries such as agriculture, to those that are higher-productivity, such as industry and services. This process underpins development and is premised on large cross-sector gaps in productivity. Economists expect these gaps to be quite large in the poorest countries, and to get smaller as labor shifts out of agriculture. Recent evidence suggests these forces are indeed at work in Sub-Saharan Africa.