After long delay, Stats SA confirms record unemployment rate

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After a delay of more than a month, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) finally released the latest unemployment data, which showed a record rate of joblessness. 

The official unemployment rate increased by 0.4 of a percentage point to 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021 - the highest since the start of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) in 2008.

But the expanded unemployment rate - which includes discouraged work seekers who have given up looking for work – fell by 0.4 of a percentage point to 46.2%.

The number of employed persons increased by 262 000 to 14.5 million, while the number of unemployed persons also increased by 278 000 to 7.9 million. Formal sector employment increased by 143 000 jobs, while the informal sector shed 48 000 jobs.

Private households, trade as well as community and social services saw new job creation, while manufacturing and construction shed jobs.

Stats SA said that it had to postpone the release due to "quality checks".

Stats SA is meant to collect data on the employment status of 33 000 households – which is extrapolated to determine the jobless rates for around 40 million adults in the country.

But in March 2020, it stopped face-to-face interviews of households as a result of the pandemic, and switched to "computer-assisted" telephone interviews, which reached fewer people. This has had "limitations", with "low response rates", Stats SA said. In the fourth quarter, there were responses on only fewer than 45% of calls made, compared to almost 77% in the second quarter of 2020.

Quality checks of these interviews took longer than expected, resulting in the delay of the employment data, Stats SA said.

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