south africa unemployment rate

SA’s official unemployment rate is 36%: A complete breakdown of the numbers

Andile Sicetsha - 01.06.2021

Compared to the same period in 2020, South Africa’s unemployment actually rose by 2.5%.

Stats SA, on Tuesday, published its quarterly labour force survey and would you believe it, South Africa has broken new ground in the country’s unemployment. Except, the Cyril Ramaphosa-led government is on the wrong side of history.

South Africa’s unemployment soars to 32.6% in Q1

For the first time ever, South Africa’s unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points (a decrease of 20 000) to 32.6%, in the period between January and March 2021.

“This is the highest unemployment rate recorded since the start of the QLFS in 2008,” Stats SA revealed in its report.

As slight as this increase may be, in the grand scheme of things, it spells for a haunting outlook on the future of the country’s labour force.

In the first quarter of 2021:

  • the number of employed persons decreased by 28 000 to 15.0 million;
  • the number of unemployed persons increased by 8 000 to 7.2 million;
  • the number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 201 000;
  • a net increase of 164 000 in the not economically active population was recorded in this period; and
  • the private households (or real estate) sector was hit the hardest with 70 000 job losses recorded.

This is what unemployment in SA really looks like

To simplify these statistics for a better understanding of what South Africa’s economy really looks like, we have broken down key figures listed in the report with a particular focus on year-on-year changes.

South Africa’s official unemployment rate is 36% (year-on-year)

If we are comparing Q1:2021 to Q4:2020, then yes, there was a slight increase in unemployment. However, observing the country’s labour force trends from a bird’s eye view, it is quite clear that the actual unemployment rate is 36% since, as Stats SA confirmed, more than 1.4 million people lost their jobs since the first quarter of 2020.

According to the survey, unemployment increased by 2.5% between January and March 2021, compared to the same period last year. Even worse, the number of persons who were not economically active increased by 11.6% (1,8 million).

Every sector, with the exception of finance, suffered massive decreases in labour

Here’s how many jobs were lost per sector, in the period between Jan-March 2020 and Jan-March 2021:

  • Agriculture: 72 000
  • Mining: 41 000
  • Manufacturing: 208 000
  • Utilities: 1 000
  • Construction: 265 000
  • Trade: 341 000
  • Transport: 92 000
  • Finance: 10 000 jobs gained
  • Community and social services: 192 000
  • Private households: – 189 000

43,6% of SA’s youth is unemployed

The only silver lining observed in these year-on-year changes was in youth unemployment which decreased by 1.7% for persons aged between 15 to 24 years old.

However, this minuscule change is completely trampled when the scope is increased to include the youth population aged between 25 and 34 years old.

In this regard, youth unemployment rose by 1.9% to a staggering 43.6% (of 20.4 million youths aged between 15-34 years old) in Q1:2021, compared to the same period last year.

Political reactions to employment slump

Much of the gaping losses in South Africa’s labour market could be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the Democratic Alliance (DA), this excuse is not good enough.

“South Africa needs urgent legislative changes to make the labour market more flexible and absorptive. The government is preoccupied with public employment projects and a localisation drive that is somehow expected to make a dent in unemployment. This is the wrong focus. It will only ever provide a drop of jobs in the ocean of joblessness,” Dr Michael Cardo, shadow minister of employment, noted in a statement.

These were some of the reactions from social media following the announcement of the updated unemployment rate: