COVID-19: Are We Asking the Right Questions about ... Poverty Reduction?

The Covid-19 pandemic and the measures we have taken to combat it are likely to leave all South Africans poorer for a long, long time. While we do not yet have the relevant data, some estimates of the number of jobs already lost run to well over a million, with hundreds of thousands of other people having experienced large reductions to their incomes for (at least) a few months. The informal sector has been hit not just by lockdown-related measures that have halted trading, but by the shocks to employment and wages in the formal economy. These have reduced the sales on which the owners of spaza shops, barbers and providers of childcare and other services rely. Millions face much-reduced living standards, and an increase in levels of poverty and of absolute poverty. Though the job losses are doubtless concentrated among the most vulnerable, employment shocks are being felt all the way up the income distribution chain. Firms in some industries (retail, tourism and leisure, media) are being decimated, taking down not just their employees but their managers and owners too.