South Africa’s unemployment remains one of the highest in the world despite some improvement in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Figures released by Statistics South Africa show that there were 6.1 million people without jobs in the three months to the end of December 2018. This is compared with 6.2 million people in the prior quarter.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high at over 27%.

According to Stats SA, the jobless rate eased slightly from 27.5% to 27.1% at the end of 2018.

The figure shows that 149 000 jobs were created, mainly in the financial sector, followed by private households and manufacturing of leather and textile goods.

However, most job losses occurred in community and social work.

Stats SA’s Statistician General, Risenga Maluleke says Limpopo recorded the lowest unemployment rate in the country, while the Eastern Cape had the highest.

“The EC returned an unemployment rate of 36.1%, whereas Limpopo has 16.5%. But when you go to the expanded definition Limpopo jump to 38.8%. So you can see that Limpopo is sitting with a lot of discouraged job seekers so is the EC with 46.8% followed by the North West 42.9% on the expanded definition.”

The figure shows that South Africa is not making strides in its effort to reduce youth unemployment.

Government has launched an Employment Tax incentive with the aim of encouraging employers to hire young job seekers.

The programme reduces the cost of hiring young people by reducing the amount of tax owed by the employer to SARS without affecting the employees’ wages.

Maluleke says unemployment among the youth is still sitting at over 50%. “Generally, young people remain vulnerable to labour market. Looking at young people between the age of 15 to 24, their unemployment is at 54.7% compared to 45 to 54, their unemployment rate was 15%of the labour markets.”

Economists say the employment picture in the country remains gloomy. Nedbank’s economist, Busisiwe Radebe, says the improvement in the jobs number is no cause for celebration.

“The marginal improvement you see in the numbers is nothing to get excited about. Usually, if you look at the figures seasonally unemployment declined in December. You must know that December you’re hiring a lot casual workers so you do see those numbers come down. What we have seen in the past there was a bigger drop usually in unemployment in December and this time the drop was not that big.”

Economists expect the labour market to remain constrained until there is substantial investment in the economy.