Unemployment reached highest level in fourth quarter of 2020: Stats SA

23 February 2021 - 13:01
By Ernest Mabuza
The official unemployment rate increased to 32.5% in the last quarter of 2020, Statistics SA announced on Tuesday.
Image: RUBY GAY MARTIN The official unemployment rate increased to 32.5% in the last quarter of 2020, Statistics SA announced on Tuesday.

The official unemployment rate increased by 1.7 percentage points to 32.5% in the last quarter of 2020 — the highest since the start of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) in 2008, Stats SA announced on Tuesday.

This means 7.2 million people were unemployed, up from 30.8% in the previous three months.

“We are seeing that the proportion of people of working age, versus the proportion of those that are employed, is widening, meaning the market is not creating sufficient jobs to absorb enough [people]," statistician-general Risenga Maluleke told a news conference.

SA was in recession before it recorded its first coronavirus infection in March and has long suffered from extremely high levels of unemployment.

According to an expanded definition of unemployment that includes those discouraged from seeking work, 42.6% of the labour force was without work in the fourth quarter, amounting to 11.1 million people, Stats SA data showed.

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Compared to a year ago, total employment fell by 1.4 million people, while the number of people who were not economically active rose by 1.5 million, the agency said.

The QLFS is a household-based sample survey conducted by Stats SA. It collects data on the labour market activities of people aged between 15 and 64 years who live in the country.

Stats SA said the number of discouraged work seekers increased by 235,000 (8.7%), and the number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement decreased by 1.1 million (7.4%) between the two quarters.

This resulted in a net decrease of 890,000 in the not economically active population.

The largest employment increases in the fourth quarter were observed in the formal sector (189,000) followed by private households (76,000), the informal sector (65,000) and the agricultural sector (2,000).

Stats SA said compared to the same period in 2019, a net decrease of 1.4 million in total employment in the fourth quarter of 2020 was largely due to losses in the number of people employed in the finance (256,000), community and social services (241,000), manufacturing (230,000), trade (186,000) and construction (184,000) industries.

It said in the fourth quarter of 2020, informal sector employment increased by 65,000 people compared to the previous quarter.

The gains in informal sector employment were driven by the construction (32,000), community and social services (28,000), transport (19,000) and trade (17,000) industries.

The number of employed people increased in eight provinces between the third quarter of 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2020.

The largest employment increases were recorded in the Western Cape (up by 121,000), KwaZulu-Natal (up by 66,000) and Gauteng (up by 64,000).

Employment losses were recorded only in Mpumalanga during the same period.

— Additional reporting by Reuters

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