The statistics from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey this week make for uncomfortable reading.
Besides the official unemployment rate of 32.6% in the first quarter, the accompanying figures struck hard. According to Stats SA, the number of “discouraged work seekers” (who have given up looking for a job) increased by 201 000. That just spells despair.
Stats SA told us the official unemployment rate among youth (those between the ages of 15 and 34) was at 46.3%, although independent research puts this at more than 70%. Even more disturbing was that the figure among university graduates is 9.3%.
Then we come to the sectors. Formal sector employment grew slightly – driven by the major sectors that are climbing back from Covid-19 devastation – but the picture for the unskilled is not rosy. The informal sector, private houses, agriculture and construction all showed a decline.
In his speech in Parliament, President Cyril Ramaphosa observed that these numbers “demonstrate the severe impact that the pandemic has had on employment across the economy”. He was partly right. The pandemic has only worsened a unmanageable situation.
“The rising number of the unemployed, those who are actively searching for work but cannot find it, represent real people in every part of our country. They include too many of the 18 million young men and women across the country who make up nearly a third of our population,” he said.
Therein lies the rub. These young people we are turfing on to the streets every year – with either a matric or tertiary certificate – often lose hope and add to the nation’s social woes. The crisis then grows new tentacles. As has been said multiple times, South Africa needs to treat job creation as its top priority. It should be the dominant topic in our debates and the main thing that focuses the national mind.