South Africa’s unemployment rate jumps to new record high

Job seekers stand outside a construction
FILE PHOTO: Job seekers stand outside a construction site ahead of the release of the unemployement numbers by Statistics South Africa, in Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, South Africa, June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

February 23, 2021

PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa’s unemployment rate jumped to a record high in the fourth quarter of last year, the statistics agency said on Tuesday, as the economy was further battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statistics South Africa said the unemployment rate stood at 32.5% in the October-December quarter, meaning 7.2 million people were unemployed, up from 30.8% in the previous three months.

The figure was the highest since the survey began in 2008.

“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.

South Africa, which has the continent’s highest rate of COVID-19 infections, 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.

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.

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana, writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Editing by Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)