Business Insider Edition

13% of South Africans are constantly unemployed, a new study shows

Helena Wasserman , Business Insider SA
 Aug 05, 2019, 01:07 PM
A new study shows that fewer than 30% of South Africans held steady jobs over the course of ten years.
  • Around 13% of South Africans haven't been employed at all over the past decade, a new study shows. 
  • The survey shows that South Africans may be moving into and out of employment fairly frequently. 
  • Fewer than 30% of South Africans held steady jobs over the course of ten years.
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The latest South African unemployment number – 29% in the second quarter -  is a shocker: Almost 7 million people are now without jobs.

However, a new study shows that South Africans are moving in and out of jobs quite frequently. Over the past ten years, more than 86% of people between the age of 25 and 50 were employed at some point, the study shows. 

The study is unique: it tracks the same group of thousands of South Africans over the past ten years.

It uses data from the government-funded National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), which interviewed a large group of households every two years, since 2008.

Of those who were each interviewed five times over the ten years (once every two years):

  • 29.7% were employed throughout the whole time
  • 16% were employed at four of the five interviews
  • 27% were employed at two or three of the interviews.
  • 13.9% were only employed in one period
  • 13.3% were unemployed throughout the ten years
Over a period of ten years, the same group of South African adults were interviewed every two years. During this time, 29.74% of adults were employed at every interview, while 13.29% weren't employed at all during the ten years. Source: SALDRU

“This means that South Africans may be moving into and out of employment fairly frequently – while many employed adults risk losing their jobs, many among the unemployed are also likely to find jobs in the future. “ says Rocco Zizzamia, who authored the study along with Vimal Ranchhod of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town.

Zizzamia is currently studying at Oxford, where he won the university’s top thesis prize in development studies for research he did into unemployment in South Africa.

Instead of grouping people into employed or unemployed, it may be more accurate to divide the South African labour market into three groups: stable employment, volatile employment, and persistent unemployment, Zizzamia said.

Zizzamia and Ranchhod’s study is by no means reassuring: it shows that fewer than 30% of South Africans held steady jobs over the course of ten years.

However, it also shows that most unemployed South Africans are not stuck in terminal unemployment, as many fear: they may work for short stints.

"But the fact that many among the unemployed will find work is only superficially reassuring when we realise that most of those jobs are so poorly protected and precarious that they are unlikely to last long," says Zizzamia.

"That half of the unemployed are practically unemployable is shocking - not reason for optimism." 

Women, rural poor worst affected

Of those who are persistently unemployed, women and those in the rural areas suffer most. One third of women are persistently unemployed. Men are more than twice as likely to be employed in all five periods as women.

Only about one in five of those with less than a matric were consistently employed, while one in three were not employed in all, or all but one period.

Those with post-secondary qualifications are far more likely to have been consistently employed, with 60.4% employed in five periods, and only 6.7 percent not employed in four or five periods.

Adults in rural areas struggle to find work: 43.3% of rural adults were not employed in four or five periods, compared to 20.4% of urban adults. Only 15.1% of rural adults were consistently employed over the period, compared to 36.8% of urban adults. 

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