South Africa’s unemployment rate ticks up slightly to record high of 32.6%

Risenga Maluleke. Image credit: Twitter/SA Gov News

South Africa’s unemployment rate inched up slightly in the first quarter of 2021 to 32.6% – the highest since the start of Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey in 2008.

In a media briefing on Tuesday (1 June), Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke said although the number of employed persons decreased by 28,000, the overall figure remained almost the same at 15 million.

7.2 million unemployed people

“The number of unemployed persons also remained almost unchanged at 7.2 million compared to the fourth quarter of 2020 (increased by 8,000),” he added.

The number of discouraged work seekers rose by 6.9% (201,000), while economically inactive (for reasons other than discouragement) people increased by 0.3% (38,000).

This translated to a net increase of 164,000 among the economically inactive people in South Africa during quarter 1 of 2020.

“These minor changes resulted in the official unemployment rate increasing by 0.1 of a percentage point from 32.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021 – the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008,” Maluleke explained.

“The unemployment rate according to the expanded definition of unemployment increased by 0.6 of a percentage point to 43.2% in quarter 1 2021 compared to quarter 4 2020.”

Youth unemployment also continues to worsen, rising to 46.3%. Among university graduates, the unemployment rate was 9.3%.

Job gains and losses

Employment gains were driven by the formal sector, which recorded an uptick or 79,000 new jobs. Employment in the informal sector however declined by 19,000.

Other sectors that recorded declines include private households (70,000 or 5.8%) and agriculture (18,000 or 2.2%). The construction industry also lost 87,000 jobs while transport lost 40,000.

“Employment mainly increased in finance (up by 215,000) and other industries that had job gains include community and social services (16,000), utilities (16,000), mining (12,000) and manufacturing (7,000),” Maluleke said.

Economists had widely expected the unemployment rate to rise to 33.4%, according to a News24 report.

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