The unemployment rate has increased by 1.7 million to 32.5%, according to Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter released on Tuesday. This is the highest unemployment rate in 12 years.

Economists say the latest unemployment figures are shocking. Stats SA says there are now 7.2 million people without work in the country.

South Africa was already in recession when the coronavirus struck early last year and the pandemic has made the situation even direr.

Most of the jobs lost were in the informal sector.

Industry experts say more worrying is the increase in discouraged jobseekers. The figures also show that the number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 235 000 in the same period.

Experts warn that the unemployment figures are expected to get even worse.

“Everybody is shocked because of the very high levels of unemployment. Clearly, the South African economy is going through a deep, deep depression – its worst ever and under these circumstances, high unemployment numbers are inevitable and my suspicion is that we are likely to see a further rise in unemployment over the next months, or years, in fact. But in the short term, I don’t think we should really read too much into this simply because of the volatility of the data,” says Economist Dawie Roodt.

Chief Economist at Econometrix, Dr Azar Jammine says, “There was a significant increase in unemployment to the order of 10 per cent and employment declined by 1.4 million in 2020.”

Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke says more people are actively looking for employment: 

The Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows that the number of employed persons increased by 333 000 to 15 million in the fourth quarter, but the number of unemployed people jumped by 701 000 to 7.2  million.

“We are also seeing – which is more worrying – a lot more people look for jobs and we’re seeing a big increase in the discouraged work-seekers. So, overall, our unemployment rates are rising and we are probably at this moment in time in a situation where it’s very difficult to see how we’re going bring down these unemployment figures in a short amount of time,” says Labour Analyst, Mike Schussler.

Economists say there is a correlation between the unemployment rate and the level of education.
With the unemployment rate at nearly 60% for those who do not have a matric qualification. -Additional reporting by Naledi Matlapeng