‘Lockdown quarter’ sees jobs bloodbath

More than two million jobs were shed between April and June 2020, marking an unprecedented decline in employment from the first quarter to the second quarter of the year.

The 2.2-million drop in employment between the first two quarters of the year is the largest on record in the history of Statistics South Africa’s quarterly labour force survey.

According to the survey, the expanded unemployment rate — which takes into account the number of discouraged job seekers, as well as people who are not economically active for other reasons — now stands at 42%. This is a 2.3% increase compared to the first quarter of 2020. 

Employment decreased in all sectors. Formal-sector employment decreased by 1.2-million and the informal sector shed 640 000 jobs.

However, there was a sharp decrease in the official unemployment rate, from 30.1% in quarter one to 23.3% in quarter two. This is the lowest rate recorded since the third quarter of 2009, the survey notes.


According to the Stats SA media statement, this sharp drop in the unemployment rate “is not a reflection of an improvement in the labour market, but rather an effect of the national lockdown, since the official definition of unemployment requires that people look for work and are available for work”. 

The number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement increased by 5.6-million between the two quarters. This resulted in a net increase of 5.2-million in the economically inactive population. According to Stats SA, almost all of those people  who stopped looking for work cited the “national lockdown” as their main reason.

The effects of the lockdown

Stats SA added questions to the survey to account for the changes in employment trends brought about by the lockdown. Respondents were asked where they were working from during the period and whether they continued to receive their salaries.

Of the 14.2-million South Africans who were employed in the second quarter of 2020, more

than half were expected to carry on working during the lockdown. Only 17% of the eight million people still working did so from their homes. The share of those who worked from home was higher among professionals (44.7%) and managers (40.6%) than other workers.

The majority of those who were expected to continue working during the lockdown continued to receive salaries. But about one in five of them had a reduction in their pay.

The survey indicates that there is some relationship between a person’s level of education and whether their salaries were cut. Almost 90% of employed graduates continued to receive a full salary, compared to 75.2% of those with less than a matric as their highest qualification. The proportion of employed people who continued to receive pay during the lockdown was higher among adults (35 to 64 years, as per the Stats SA definition) than among youth (15 to 34 years), while the proportion of youth who did not receive pay was 2.3% higher than among adults.

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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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