Hunger worsens despite Covid grants, even as employment recovers from hard lockdown job losses

17 February 2021 - 11:07
One in five South African households report weekly hunger. File photo.
One in five South African households report weekly hunger. File photo.
Image: 123RF/Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer

There has been a substantial increase in employment recovery due to eased lockdown measures from last year, but the country continues to battle against hunger.

This is according to a National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile survey (Nids-Cram) released on Wednesday.

“Between February and April 2020, we had previously found a substantial increase in those who were not employed – from 43% to 52% - as well as an increase in furloughed workers. We now find that by October 2020, the percentage of people employed is much closer to its February pre-pandemic level.

“The fraction of people employed changed from 57% in February to 48% in April and June, and 55% in October. While there is always a margin of error around survey estimates, and there have been changes in the number of working age adults over the period, these results suggest a considerable recovery between June and October 2020,” said the report.

However, of those who lost their jobs in April, only half were employed again by October, while about a third of those without employment in February were employed in October.

“This suggests substantial churning in the labour market, which no longer looks the same as it did prior to the pandemic-inspired lockdowns.  

“Job recovery was stronger for those with more education, especially among the youth. If one focuses on youth (18-24 years), those with a matric were more likely to be employed in October (42%) compared to February (29%), while employment for those with more than matric increased from 42% in February to 46% in October,” reads the report.

“We see the opposite trends for youth with less than matric, whose employment was lower in October (23%) than in February (28%). This positive correlation between education and employment was also found for prime-age adults (25-40 years), but not for older adults (41-55 years).”

The employment recovery seen in Wave 3 of Nids-Cram is consistent with the monthly production and sales data released by StatsSA. This data is used for StatsSA’s GDP calculations. It suggests that by October 2020, important sectors of the economy – mining, manufacturing, wholesale and retail – were making October 2020 sales at or above their February 2020 levels.

Employed women were working two fewer hours per week on average in October compared to February, while men’s working hours were back up to pre-Covid levels.

Given the reopening of schools, both women and men reported spending significantly fewer hours on child care in October compared to June 2020.

Of concern is that child hunger has increased across the country, returning to the highest levels of the hard lockdown in May 2020.

Household hunger has now increased across the country, with one in five households reporting weekly hunger.

“Households were asked if anyone in the household had gone hungry in the last seven days. This rate was highest in May/June (23%), declined in July/August (16%) and has risen again in November/December (18%). These changes are all statistically significant.

“Removal of grant top-ups to the child support grant and old age pension at the end of October 2020 will affect poor households the most, and especially black women with children – the same group with one of the highest rates of reported weekly hunger.

“Those experiencing weekly hunger were more likely to screen positive for depressive symptoms, and this relationship has strengthened over time.

“In November/December, 40% of those who experienced hunger in the last seven days screened positive for depressive symptoms compared to 27% among those not experiencing hunger. This gap is larger now than it was in July/August,” said the report.

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