Unemployment rate hits record high — again

South Africa’s unemployment rate has yet again hit a record high, climbing to 34.4% of the labour force in the second quarter of 2021.

According to the Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) quarterly labour-force survey released on Tuesday, the country added more than half a million workers to its unemployed labour force — which now consists of 7.8-million people. 

The 34.4% unemployment rate, up from 32.6% in the first quarter, is the highest since the start of the survey in 2008.

The unemployment rate, according to the expanded definition — which counts economically inactive people in the labour force still looking for work, as well as discouraged work seekers — increased by 1.2 percentage points to 44.4% in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the previous three months. The number of discouraged work seekers increased by 186 000, according to the survey.

Although youth employment improved slightly during the quarter, more than four in every 10 young people between the ages of 15 and 34 were not in employment, education or training.

South Africa’s deepening unemployment crisis was sent spiralling when Covid-19 hit last year and the government imposed a national lockdown in response, initially shutting down all but essential services.

In the second quarter of 2020, which Stats SA dubbed “the lockdown quarter”, 2.2-million people lost their jobs. 

But at the time the unemployment rate significantly decreased to 23.3%, the lowest rate recorded since the third quarter of 2009. This decline was, however, because ofa technicality, as Stats SA’s official definition of unemployment requires that people look for work and are available for work, conditions that were hindered by the lockdown. 

Since then, the unemployment rate has climbed to record highs, dashing hopes that jobs would return to pre-pandemic levels as the economy recovered. The previous two surveys have recorded unemployment rates at the highest levels since 2008.

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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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