Employment bounces back to near pre-pandemic levels, survey shows

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Employment levels have been improving with the easing of lockdown restrictions, a survey shows.
Employment levels have been improving with the easing of lockdown restrictions, a survey shows.
Gallo Images/Dino Lloyd
  • Approximately 2.1 million people found jobs between June and October, the NIDS-CRAM survey shows.
  • The jobs bounce-back to near pre-pandemic levels comes off the lows reported in April during Level 5 lockdown, but the country still has an unemployment crisis.
  • Women are still behind men in terms of job recoveries returning to pre-pandemic levels.


Approximately 2.1 million people found employment between June and October of 2020, following declines in jobs in April due to lockdown Level 5, a study shows.

The National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) on Wednesday released its third wave of research on the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and society.

In April last year it released its first wave of reports which showed that employment declined by about three million as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. According to data from Stats SA for the second quarter of 2020, about 2.2 million jobs were shed. The quarterly labour force survey for the third quarter showed that SA had 6.8 million jobless people.

Stats SA is due to release labour force data for the fourth quarter next week. Stats SA relies on a much larger sample than NIDS-CRAM.

The NIDS-CRAM's latest survey shows there have been recoveries in the level of employment with the easing of lockdown restrictions. In fact, employment levels as at October 2020 were much closer to pre-pandemic levels in February, according to the report.  

"Between February and April 2020, we had previously found a substantial increase in those who were not employed – from 43% to 52%, as well as an increase in furloughed workers. We now find that by October 2020 the percentage of people employed is much closer to its February pre-pandemic level."

Not all lost jobs recovered

Speaking at a virtual event to launch the third wave of data, Nic Spaull, who leads the NIDS-CRAM research, said  the recovery in jobs did not necessarily mean that all jobs lost in April were recovered.

"Only half of those who lost jobs [in April] regained them [by October]. A third of those who were not employed in February, gained jobs in October," Spaull said.

The report noted that the results of the NIDS-CRAM Wave 3 survey would show if these gains were sustained into January 2021 – given that adjusted lockdown Level 3 was implemented in late December and in January to curb the second wave of Covid-19 infections.

The current study showed that job recovery was stronger among those with more education, especially among young people (those aged between 18 and 24) and "prime-age" adults (those aged between 25 and 40).

Reza Daniels, who worked with Spaull in leading the research, noted that the recovery was uneven – especially as women had not recovered to the same extent as men.

The first wave of data showed that women suffered greater job losses than men – employment fell by 23% for women compared to 10% for men. Of the nearly three million jobs lost in April, women accounted for two-thirds or under two million of jobs lost.

"Wave 3 data show a substantial recovery with the move to Level 1 lockdown, with just over 2.1 million additional jobs recorded between June and October, shared almost equally in absolute terms between women and men," the report read. Women reported an increase of 15% or 1.05 million jobs, while men reported an increase of 13% or 1.08 million of jobs.

"Given how much larger the fall in women's employment was as a result of the initial lockdown, it appears women still remained behind men in terms of reaching their pre-Covid-19 levels in October, the report read.

Women's employment was down by just under 700 000 or 8% in October compared to men's employment, which was down 200 000 jobs or 2% in the same month.

While women are over-represented in total unemployment, they are under-represented in terms of income support provided. In June, 41% of the Unemployment Insurance Fund-Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme beneficiaries were women; by October, this was 39%. In terms of the Social Relief and Distress (SRD) grant – as at June, 38% of beneficiaries were women; in October, it dropped to 37%.

Women bear brunt

Women have had to bear the brunt of closures of early childhood development centres and other childcare facilities, and had to take on additional childcare work, compared to men, the survey noted.

"With the reopening of schools, women were able to reduce their childcare hours substantially, and by more than men. This highlights how women have borne the brunt of school closures thus far."

Kate Philip, who is part of the team driving the president's employment stimulus plan and also attended the launch of the research, noted that the bounce-back in jobs numbers did not necessarily eliminate the unemployment crisis that existed before Covid-19.

"We had a severe crisis of unemployment before this [pandemic], we bounced back to 29% of unemployment," she said. Philip commented that policy frameworks should aim to achieve better and more employment.

Other results of the survey show that earnings may have "slightly increased" for workers in both February and October, but NIDS-CRAM noted this is a tentative result. "We are reasonably confident that earnings did not decrease for those individuals who were employed in both February and October."

The survey also found that the SRD grant coverage was present in households of those who lost jobs. "About 40% of these job-losers were part of a household which received at least one SRD grant … The SRD grant has become a major new part of the South African social assistance environment."

Established grants system still crucial

The report highlighted that country's established, pre-Covid-19 grant system is still crucial in providing social protection. Coverage is higher among rural populations, women and among manual and informal workers, the report indicated.

Philip said that the social protection system is quite complex, and not necessarily well targeted. For example, with the caregiver grant - only women who are caregivers would have access to the grant.

"The right of social protection is linked to their status as a caregiver, and that is highly problematic - well-targeted as that grant is, it is problematic," she said.

She said if the SRD was scrapped, it would leave a whole cohort of women without access to social protection. Philip stressed that whose who need social protection should get social protection.

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