South Africa hits new unemployment record

South Africa’s unemployment rate has once again reached a new high. 

According to Statistics South Africa’s (StatsSA) quarterly labour force survey, in the first three months of 2021 the unemployment rate reached 32.6%, the highest since the survey was launched in 2008. 

This is, however, only 0.1% higher than the unemployment rate in the previous quarter. The number of unemployed persons remained almost unchanged at 7.2-million people, compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, StatsSA noted.

The unemployment rate under the expanded definition, which includes discouraged work-seekers or those who have given up looking for work altogether, paints an even more dire picture — increasing by 0.6% to 43.2% in the first quarter of 2021.

The number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 201 000, while the number of other economically inactive people decreased by 38 000 between the two quarters. This resulted in a net increase of 164 000 people in the economically inactive population.

Economists predicted an increase in joblessness at the beginning of 2021, with some forecasting that the narrowly defined unemployment rate would climb north of 33%. Nedbank economists forecast that the labour market would reach its worst point this quarter, with employment levels gradually picking up over the remainder of the year.

According to StatsSA, employment losses were concentrated in the informal sector. There were 70 000 job losses among domestic workers. A further 19 000 informal sector jobs were shed in the quarter.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns inflamed South Africa’s already deepening unemployment crisis. 

In the first months of the hard lockdown at the beginning of 2020, 2.2-million South Africans lost their jobs. At the time the expanded unemployment rate was 42%.

The period was labelled the “lockdown quarter”.

And recovery has been slow. Only 847 000 employed people have been added to the labour force since the initial lockdown-induced jobs bloodbath.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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