The rate of unemployment in South Africa jumped to a record high in the fourth quarter of last year, a statistics agency said on 23 February, as the economy was further battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state agency called 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 2020. The country, once in the vice-like grip of apartheid, has long suffered from extremely high levels of unemployment.
Expanded definition of unemployment said 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.
The unemployment rate in Africa’s most-industrialised economy has remained above 20% for at least two decades, largely due to structural barriers, including an education system that doesn’t provide adequate skills.
Restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 probably caused the economy to contract the most since the Great Depression, with the lockdown forcing some businesses to cut wages, reduce staff or shut permanently. The market is not creating sufficient jobs to absorb enough people of working age into employment, Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke told reporters.
The persistently high unemployment rate poses a challenge for Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he prepares to deliver his budget speech. While joblessness has added to social tensions that dent the country’s status as an investment destination and erode business confidence, it could hinder efforts to stabilize South Africa’s rapidly deteriorating public finances. The Treasury will have to fork out more cash to finance a three-month extension of a special coronavirus jobless relief grant.