Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

OPINION: Serious deterioration in unemployment is haunting SA

By Dr Pali Lehohla Time of article published Feb 12, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The message on unemployment in South Africa, especially among the youth of 15 to 34 years of age, is that not only more of them are getting unemployed, but in fact in the 11-year period from 2008 to date, their share in employment in absolute terms has stayed the same, at best, or has declined, at worst.

Among adults of 35 to 64 years of age, while there has been an increase in employment of close on 20percent, there has also been a doubling of the number that are unemployed over this period of time, hazarding for South Africa a very bleak future and a country dragging its feet in mud.

Among the youths aged 15 to 24 years of age, their share of employment by 2019 had declined by 600000, from 2million in 2008.

Their unemployment had increased from 2million in 2008, to 2.4million by 2019.

That is that an additional 400000 youths in this age group became unemployed.

A corresponding figure for those aged 25 to 34 shows that in 2008, 5million youths were employed and the number had stayed constant by 2019.

On the other hand, 2.5 million of them were unemployed then and by 2019 4million of them were unemployed.

Better gains in employment are observed at ages above 35.

In the age group 35 to 44 the number employed in 2008 were 4million, and by 2019 that number has increased and surpassed the 5million of the 25 to 34 age group by about a 100000 in these 11 years.

Unemployment numbers for this age group 35 to 44 has doubled from 1 to 2million. Among those aged 45 to 54 the number employed has increased from 3 to 3.7million.

The number unemployed in this age group has grown by almost 1million and now number 1.7million in 2019.

Those in the age group 55 to 64 have also experienced growth in employment of about 500000 in the period and now number about 1.8 million. The unemployed in this age group has also increased to about 300 000 from about a 100 000, 11 years ago.

The results of the fourth quarter labour force survey released yesterday shows that unemployment has remained at the same level from the third quarter results.

This is the second worst performance in the number employed in the fourth quarter at an increase of 45000 employees, quarter-on-quarter.

The worst was quarter four of 2017, where the number in the fourth quarter dropped by 21000 from the third quarter. The increase in this fourth quarter is a fifth of the best quarter, which was the fourth quarter of 2016.

On a year-on-year basis the 2019 fourth quarter fared worse compared to the fourth quarter 2018. In 2018 the number employed were 16.529million compared to 16.42million.So year-on-year the situation has actually deteriorated.

But more importantly, unemployment has increased by up to 7percentage points today from where it was in 2008.

Unemployment has gone back to the levels it last was in 2002/3. Given this context the question is: Will the last State of the Nation Address (Sona) with its paltry 200 000 jobs promise per year stem the tide?

Or worst still, will the inclusive growth document of finance, which promises half the number the President promised, do the trick to get South Africa out of joblessness?

The paper promises a mere 100000 per year. One wonders whether the two statements three months apart, June and August, differed because any serious and thoughtful work on jobs was undertaken, or each drew on its own assumptions.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at or @PaliLehohla

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