Turkey’s unemployment figures 'have lost touch with reality'

The Turkish Statistical Institute's unemployment data was met with skepticism since it showed the lowest unemployment rate in 22 months at 12.7 percent in September. Such low numbers within the ongoing economic crisis, which has been worsened by the pandemic, have resulted in the data being heavily criticized.

A porter waits for customers in Diyarbakır, Turkey, March 11, 2020.

K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English

A recent study from Istanbul-based Kadir Has University in January 2020 revealed that 16.1 percent of Turks think that unemployment is the third biggest problem facing the country, just after cost of living at 18.1 percent and terrorism at 19.8 percent.

Economy-centric concerns, in general, amounted to 41.6 percent. The study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic hardships, and already half of those surveyed mentioned facing economic hardships.

Skepticism surrounding economic data from the Turkish government is widespread not only among ordinary people but also experts, business persons, non-government institutions, and opposition politicians.

The most recent unemployment data from The Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) showed the lowest unemployment rate in 22 months at 12.7 percent in September. Such low numbers within the ongoing economic crisis, which has been worsened by the pandemic, have resulted in this data being heavily criticized.

Because of this widespread skepticism, businesses, analysts, and other institutions have developed methods in order to collect independent data and come to independent conclusions.

One of the main data sources used is the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK).

According to TÜİK statistics, compared to last September, the standard unemployment rate dropped by 1.1 points to 12.7 percent and the number of people unemployed has decreased by 550 thousand to 4 million 16 thousand. DİSK not only disagrees with those numbers, but also said that TÜİK has not used appropriate methods for calculating unemployment rates, especially since the start of the pandemic. For example, DİSK pointed out that TÜİK only counted those searching for jobs via the Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) during the reference month of the survey. As a result, people who have stopped actively looking for jobs because they have lost hope, as has been common during the pandemic, are not counted among the unemployed according to DİSK.

“Since March I have had no income due to the pandemic-related school closures. I have been looking for a job for months. I have not applied to İŞKUR, but I have been looking for 9 months now. A job as a driver, receptionist, anything I can do. I don’t care now. I am really willing to do anything. I even applied to work at a Greenhouse in Urla picking vegetables. Unfortunately, that company ended up firing its existing workers,” Engin Akkavak (58) a private school bus driver in İzmir who has been unemployed since March told Duvar English.

“Many people around me are in the same situation. My younger brother for example. He is living in a rental house. He used to work at a restaurant. Since it closed (due to pandemic regulations) he is now unemployed. He has no income and two children like I do," Akkavak added.

“I don’t trust the official statistics, like everything else they are inaccurate. The official unemployment rate does not represent people's reality. People are constantly losing their jobs. How could so many people find jobs at a time like this? No, the number of people unemployed is increasing. If you look around you can see it. There were 30 people working with me at the school. Now all of them, as far as I know, have been unemployed since March. How could unemployment have decreased? What they are saying has nothing do to with reality” Akkavak concluded.

“TÜİK’s standard calculations regarding their unemployment statistics didn't present an accurate picture in the past, but since the pandemic they have totally lost touch with reality,” President of DİSK Arzu Çerkezoğlu told Duvar English.

According to Çerkezoğlu, the government has continuously insisted on steps that only worsen the problem.

“We are now asking the government to face the facts. If they don’t, there can't be any solutions. When you ignore poverty it does not cease to exist. The unemployment rate doesn’t decrease just because you say so. Our struggle now is to convince the government that unemployment is more than just data. It is an issue that threatens the future of our country.”