SA's jobless number grows to 7.2 million as unemployment rate breaches new record

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The official unemployment rate is now 32.5%.
The official unemployment rate is now 32.5%.
Gallo Images/Dino Lloyd
  • SA's official unemployment rate has risen to 32.5%, in line with economists' expectations.
  • While there were job gains during the fourth quarter - a million more people joined the labour force and added to those on the unemployment queue.
  • Unemployment is still concentrated among the youth and black Africans.

The country's official unemployment rate has increased to a record 32.5%, as the number of jobless in South Africa grew to 7.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) released the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) on Tuesday, which showed that the increasing unemployment rate is due to more people joining the labour force, as economists expected.

According to Stats SA, one million more people joined the labour force.

In total, there were 333 000 job gains to 15 million in the fourth quarter of 2020. The largest job gains were made in the formal sector (up 189 000), followed by private households (up 76 000), the informal sector (up 65 000) and the agriculture sector (up 2 000).

Stats SA, however, highlighted that the movement to unemployment outweighed that of employment.

The agency also noted the increase in the unemployment rate to 32.5% is the highest since the QLFS started in 2008.

The expanded definition of unemployment – which includes those discouraged from seeking work - increased to 42.6% in the fourth quarter.

More than half (52.3%) of the 7.2 million unemployed persons had education levels below matric. By comparison, only 1.8% of the unemployed were graduates and 7.5% had other tertiary qualifications.

Unemployment was mostly concentrated among youth - those aged between 15 and 24 years with a rate of 63.2% - and with those aged between 25 and 34, with a rate of 41.2%.

Stats SA also highlighted that unemployment is higher among black Africans (36.5%), compared to other population groups. Black African women are the most vulnerable, with an unemployment rate of 38.5%, according to a presentation from Stats SA.

Covid-19 impact

The agency also collected data on the impact of the national lockdown on employment conditions. Of the 15 million employed persons in the quarter – 78.3% or eight out of 10 people were expected to work throughout lockdown. However, 66% or two out of three people said they could not work because of the national lockdown.

"Those who actually worked were predominately men in most industries, except in the community and social services sector and private households, where the majority were women," Stats SA said in its report. It also highlighted that professionals and managers were more likely than those in other occupations to be working from home.

Stats SA also noted that most people continued to receive pay during lockdown. "However, those with lower levels of education were more likely to receive reduced salaries than those with higher levels of education."

About 95.4% of respondents said they would be returning to the same job after lockdown. About 1.3% of respondents said they would not return to the same job and 3.4% were unsure – they also indicated they were concerned they may lose their jobs.

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