Shanti Aboobaker

South Africa added 141 000 jobs during the fourth quarter of last year, Statistics SA reported yesterday, but analysts expressed scepticism about the veracity and significance of the figures due to the weak levels of economic growth.

Releasing the quarterly labour force survey data in Pretoria yesterday, statistician-general Pali Lehohla said that while employment in South Africa had risen to 15.2 million, the proportion of South Africans with jobs at 43.3 percent was still below the pre-recession peak of 46.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Unemployment declined to 24.1 percent, while labour force participation was 57.1 percent.

Some 4.8 million people aged 15 to 64 were out of work but seeking jobs and available to work, a drop of 50 000 people from the previous quarter. The unemployment rate stood at 24.1 percent – a decline of 0.4 percentage points from the previous quarter.

Among the 19.4 million South Africans aged 15 to 34, 3.2 million are unemployed, and 66 percent of these are characterised as “long-term” unemployed.

Econometrix chief economist Azar Jammine said the findings of the quarterly employment survey tended to render “consistently much weaker” employment figures than the labour force survey.

“There will be people who are sceptical. I do worry because it’s difficult… I cannot believe so many jobs were created last year,” he said.

Jammine said employment had increased by 4.2 percent over the past year, while economic growth was only 1.8 percent, which was “the opposite of jobless growth”.

Increased employment in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga during the fourth quarter of last year could be explained by an increase in festive season tourism.

Lehohla said 47.1 percent of the youth labour force had less than a matric qualification.

For those aged 18 to 29, only one in three are employed, and close to 60 percent have less than a matric. Some 28.1 percent of those in this age group are in school or studying.

Stats SA said 123 000 jobs were created in the informal sector in the fourth quarter.

The largest year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter employment change was in the community and social services sector, which includes South Africa’s massive public service as well as its burgeoning tourist industry and accounts for 22.9 percent of all employed people in the country.

Those employed in extended public works programmes and community works programmes – but not those temporarily employed in these programmes – are also counted under community and social services.

Between the third and fourth quarters of last year, 97 000 jobs were created in this sector, which also recorded year-on-year growth of 219 000 new jobs.

The construction sector did second best, adding 59 000 jobs over the quarter, followed by the trade sector, which added 40 000 jobs.

Stats SA said job losses were observed in five industries. The worst losses were in agriculture (27 000), finance and other business services (23 000), and private households (20 000).

South Africa’s working age population is 35 million people, of whom 15.2 million are employed and 4.8 million people are classified as unemployed. Stats SA counts 15 million as not being economically active, of whom 2.2 million are labelled as discouraged work seekers.