Official unemployment rate at its highest since 2008: Stats SA

Ernest Mabuza Journalist
The official unemployment rate has increased to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021. Stock photo.
The official unemployment rate has increased to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/kritchanut

SA's official unemployment rate increased to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021, the highest since the start of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) in 2008, Stats SA said on Tuesday.

The QLFS is a household-based sample survey conducted by Stats SA. It collects data on the labour market activities of individuals aged 15 years and older who live in SA.

The survey showed that the number of employed people decreased by 28,000 to 15 million in the first quarter.

The survey showed that the number of unemployed people increased by 8,000 to 7.2 million compared to the last three months of 2020, resulting in a decrease of 20,000 in the number of people in the labour force.

Stats SA said this was the third consecutive increase in unemployment since the Covid-19 national lockdown.

“However, it should be noted that during Q3 [3rd quarter] 2020, Q4 2020 and Q1 2021, the national lockdown regulations were relaxed, which allowed travelling, and this played a role in people actively looking for work, whereas during Q2 2020 the country was under hard lockdown that prevented movement.”

The survey showed that the number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 201,000 and the number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement decreased by 38,000 between the two quarters, resulting in a net increase of 164,000 in the not economically active population.

Stats SA said these minor changes resulted in the official unemployment rate increasing from 32.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021.

“This is the highest since the start of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey in 2008.”

The unemployment rate, according to the expanded definition of unemployment, increased by 0.6 of a percentage point to 43.2% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, Stats SA said.

The largest employment decreases were observed in private households (70,000), followed by the informal sector (19,000), and the agricultural sector (18,000) this quarter.

Stats SA said employment increases were only observed in the formal sector (79,000).

Compared to a year ago, total employment decreased by 1.4 million.

Between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, the number of employed people decreased in five of the 10 industries, with the largest decrease recorded in construction (87,000), followed by trade (84,000) and private households (70,000).

The largest increases in employment were recorded in finance (215,000), utilities and community and social services (16,000 each).

Compared to the same period last year, a net decrease of 1.4 million in total employment in the first quarter of 2021 was largely due to losses in the number of people employed in the trade (341,000), construction (265,000), manufacturing (208,000), community and social services (192,000), and private households (189,000) industries.

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