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ELECTION FACTSHEET: Jobs in South Africa

Ahead of South Africa’s national and provincial elections in May 2024, we look at the country’s unemployment figures, which are among the highest in the world.

South Africa holds provincial and national elections on 29 May

The country’s high unemployment is widely recognised as one of its most pressing issues. Political parties across the land have vowed to create more jobs

To give you an idea of the scale of the task that awaits them, this factsheet answers some key questions about employment.

1. How is unemployment defined?

Unemployment is measured in two ways.

The narrow or strict definition of unemployment includes those who are unemployed and have taken active steps to look for work. The broad or expanded definition of unemployment includes discouraged jobseekers. This refers to people who can work but are unable to find work suited to their skills or have lost any hope of finding a job.

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) regularly publishes statistics on employment in South Africa. The quarterly labour force survey (QLFS) for January to March 2024 is the most recent available. It estimated a narrow unemployment rate of 32.9%. The expanded unemployment rate was 41.9%.

2. Which provinces have the highest unemployment rates?

Of South Africa’s nine provinces, the Eastern Cape recorded the highest unemployment rate (42.4%) in the first quarter of 2024. The Western Cape had the lowest rate, at 21.4%.

3. Which metros have the highest unemployment rates?

There are eight metropolitan municipalities in South Africa. These are larger municipalities centred around the country’s major cities and are therefore characterised by high concentrations of people and households.

The metro with the lowest unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2024 was eThekwini, in KwaZulu-Natal, at 22%. Gauteng’s City of Tshwane metro had the highest, at 35.1%.

4. What is the racial breakdown of unemployment in South Africa?

Employment figures in South Africa show a stark divide along racial lines. 

In the first quarter of 2024, 36.9% of black people were unemployed according to the narrow definition. The figure was 23% for coloured people, 12.6% for Indian/Asian people and 9.2% for white people.

According to Stats SA, unemployment rates among black people have been consistently higher than other population groups over the past 10 years.

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Source: Statistics South Africa Quarterly Labour Force Survey Q1:2024

5. What is the youth unemployment rate?

In South Africa, “youth” is defined as people between the ages of 15 and 34 years. According to Stats SA, this age group is more vulnerable to unemployment than older age groups. 

The latest data shows that the unemployment rate for young people aged 15 to 24 years was 59.7% and for those aged 25 to 34 it was 40.7%. 

Stats SA research shows that youth with some form of work experience are more likely to transition from unemployment or inactivity into employment. 

“A person’s chances of landing and keeping a job are also greatly influenced by their level of education. Compared to those without matric [grade 12], those with tertiary education have a greater chance of transitioning from unemployment or inactivity into employment,” said Stats SA.

6. Where does South Africa rank globally?

Comparing unemployment rates globally can be complicated by differing definitions of unemployment and methods of data collection. Recent data also isn’t available for all countries.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) compiles annual unemployment statistics for 190 countries, territories and areas of the world. It uses the same definition of unemployment as Stats SA, the national data agency. 

According to the latest ILO data, South Africa had the highest unemployment rate of all the economies measured, at 28.8% in 2022. It was followed by Djibouti (26.7%), the West Bank and Gaza (24.4%) and Botswana (23.6%). 

South Africa has been among the top ten countries in terms of unemployment since 2006.

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