South African unemployment: Lies and statistics

Unemployed person in South Africa How to measure the number of unemployed people in South Africa?

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It has become one of the defining truths about modern South Africa and its economic and social struggles: Soaring, endemic, potentially explosive levels of unemployment.

The official figures paint a resolutely grim picture of a country where a quarter of the workforce cannot find a job, and where almost half of young South Africans are without work.

But are the figures accurate - or to borrow from Mark Twain - "damned lies"?

According to a report by labour analysts at a prominent South African company, the true unemployment figure here is actually about 11.3%.

Adcorp reaches this remarkable, and presumably contestable conclusion by including "informal sector jobs", which it concedes are hard to measure accurately.

South Africa's ruling alliance has always placed strong emphasis on the notion of "decent work", and some of the informal jobs - those beyond the reach of the tax inspector, unions, insurance etc - included in Adcorp's calculations presumably do not fall into that category.

But should they not be included in the overall employment figures regardless and what impact might they have on policy here if there were?

From what I have heard from analysts here, there is no suggestion that the books are being "cooked" for political purposes.

Administrative chaos is a more likely explanation.

Looking ahead, the key, presumably, is to find ways - taxation policy and labour law reforms being obvious ones - to lure more small businesses into the "formal sector", and to balance the urgent need to create more jobs with the need to ensure against exploitation and abuse.

Lurking behind these debatable unemployment statistics - and there is an interesting bit of fact-checking here - are the two undisputable and, perhaps, unsustainable facts of South Africa's economy: Too few people paying tax, and too many receiving welfare payments .

Andrew Harding, Africa correspondent Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Number 2: By having higher unemployment the country would likely get more aid money, which unfortunately ends up benefiting members of the ruling elite more than the general population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Anyone visiting SA will know that there are lots of black economy jobs ... daily farm work, taxis, street vendors etc who are officially 'unemployed' (much like the UK's welfare cheats). The ANC have increasingly become the vehicle of corruption & fiddling economic figures is just a part of that process. e.g. The reports of ANC 'protesters' being bussed in to Western Cape vineyards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Why would the ruling govt in SA "cook" unemployment figures by reporting a number higher than what it really is? If anything, wouldn't the govt be reporting a lower rather than a higher unemployment figure? Was the recently released SA census which showed that over 2 decades after apathied, whites' income is still 6 times that of Blacks cooked too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    To few people paying tax is definitely a problem, but the other thing that is worth pointing out is that many of the informal sector jobs are hardly what could be called full-time jobs with a living wage by the standards of a developed country. Many men & women who work as maids & gardeners for instance might only have one or two odd jobs that they go to a week, scraping by on minimum wages.



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