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Focus Areas

The three focus areas are unemployment and employment, income distribution, and inclusive growth.

They are closely related, with employment and unemployment being key drivers of income inequality, poverty and the degree of inclusivity of the growth process, and income distribution being one of the key “outcome indicators” of both employment trends and the structure and inclusivity of growth.

For each focus area a research group or community of qualified researchers, working on a structured programme of research, will be developed and nurtured. The Research Coordinator and the convenors will work together to realise a coordinated, integrated and non-fragmented approach.

In particular, the Project Agreement highlights several aspects pertaining to the design of a work programme for a Focus Area. In brief, the project envisages:

  • a structured programme of targeted research projects, guided by the focus area convenors;
  • identifying and addressing gaps in our understanding/generating a broad-based and integrated knowledge base;
  • aiming to underpin consistent, richly informed and multi-pronged policy inititives and policy measures, and to inform assessments of the impact of policies and programmes;
  • following an 'integrated' approach to the overall research programme, linking the study of the three intrinsically related focus areas;
  • facilitating a broad, cross-discourse discussion of own and other research findings/encouraging researchers to bridge divides that exist between discourses/collaborative work from complementary and competing perspectives and approaches;
  • generating a broad network of participating reserachers and research teams/involving researchers and students from a broad set of universities/encouraging postgraduate study;
  • launching an active dissemination programme of workshops, publications and promoting informed debate (inter alia via it's online forum);
  • promoting regular interactions with policy advisors; and
  • generating databases for use by researchers on the project, but also as a public resource.
For the focus area work programmes these elements have implications for content and process, in the latter case the development of inclusive research groups or reaserach communities for each focus area, and the careful development of a rich and structured research agenda based on the identification of gaps in our understanding of the different areas.


Focus area 1:  An integrated approach to unemployment and employment in SA

Convenor: Frederick Fourie

The employment focus area approaches unemployment as a complex, multi-faceted problem, closely interrelated with poverty and inequality and the social, spatial and structural features of the South African economy. It seeks to develop an integrated and coherent analytical picture of un¬employment, employment and self-employment in the formal sector, the informal economy and the survivalist segment – drawing on labour economic, macroeconomic and poverty/development studies. Key issues include segmentation of the labour market and barriers to entry related to geography and workers’ mobility; discouragement from economic participation related to poverty and marginalisation; and the dynamics of firm behaviour, including the determinants of labour demand (and elasticities) across the formal and informal economies.


Focus area 2:  Income distribution in South Africa  

Convenor: Murray Leibbrandt

The income distribution focus area will analyse and compare long-term trends in the distribution of income using data from household surveys, administrative records and other sources. Research issues include the determinants of income trends, social and intergenerational mobility and the role of unemployment and employment, demographic trends, urbanisation and spatial development patterns, the tax structure, education and training, government spending and social transfers and household wealth – and related policies – in shaping changes to inequality and distribution dynamics.


Focus area 3:  Inclusive growth in South Africa

Convenor: Haroon Bhorat

The third focus area recognises inclusive growth as both an outcome of broad-based development and a process whereby increasing numbers of people participate in economic activity (whether in survivalist, informal or formal segments). It considers the determinants (‘drivers’) of both the participative nature and distributional impact of economic growth and development, including household living conditions, education, health, social and economic participation and employment, livelihoods, ownership of private assets, work and social cohesion – and the related social and economic policies.