SA unemployment rate slightly up, hits new record high

Unemployment ticks up slightly to 32.6%.
Gallo Images/Dino Lloyd

The official unemployment rate has marginally increased, growing to a record high of 32.6%, data from Stats SA shows.

Minor changes resulted in the official unemployment rate increasing by 0.1 of a percentage point from 32.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021 - the highest since the start of Stats SA's Quarterly Labour in 2008.

Economists had expected the official unemployment rate to hit a new record of 33.4%, as a result of new job seekers such as school leavers and graduates entering the labour force.

However, the country's jobless remained almost unchanged from the fourth quarter at around 7.2 million, Stats SA said.

The expanded unemployment rate - which takes into account those who were discouraged from looking for work or for having other reasons that stopped them from job searching - increased slightly by 0.6 of a percentage point to 43.2%. The amount of discouraged work seekers increased from 2.9 million in the previous quarter to 3.1 million. This means that contrary to economists' expectations, the labour force participation rate had decreased.

Among the highest unemployment rates were recorded for the youth (those aged between 15 and 24) at 63.3% and those aged between 25 and 34 at 41.3%.

Unemployment among the black African population remains higher than the national average at 36.7%, up from 36.5% recorded in the fourth quarter.

Black African women are the most vulnerable with an unemployment rate of 38.3%, according to Stats SA.  

According to Stats SA, the construction, trade and private household sectors recorded the larges employment losses. While employment mainly increased in finance, community and social services, utilities, mining and manufacturing.

Covid-19 impact

Other survey findings show that of the 15 million persons who were employed in the first quarter, eight out of 10 were expected to work during the lockdown. Of those who were employed during the lockdown, 91.3% continued to receive payment, compared to 88.9% recorded in the fourth quarter. About 14% of those who received pay, had to get by with reduced salaries.