South Africa's unemployment rate hits new record high in Q4 2021

South Africa wrestles on takling poverty and inequality as joblessness takes toll
Job seekers wait beside a road for casual work offered by passing motorists in Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, South Africa, March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

PRETORIA, March 29 (Reuters) - South Africa's unemployment rate rose to a new record high of 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021 from 34.9% in the third quarter due to job losses mainly in manufacturing and construction, the statistics agency said on Tuesday.

Statistics South Africa said the number of unemployed totalled 7.921 million people in the October-December period, compared with 7.643 million people in the previous three months.

The rate was the highest since the quarterly labour force survey began in 2008.

According to an expanded definition of unemployment that includes those discouraged from seeking work, 46.2% of the labour force was without work in the fourth quarter, from 46.6% in the third quarter.

Job losses in the fourth quarter were concentrated in manufacturing, which lost 85,000 jobs, and construction which shed 25,000 jobs.

On the other hand, private households, trade as well as community and social services had recorded job gains.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated South Africa's labour market woes last year. Before the pandemic, the economy was already suffering from high levels of joblessness as problems such as persistent electricity cuts choked growth, contributing to poverty and inequality.

The finance ministry expects economic growth of 2.1% this year, a rate officials and economists have said is far below the level required to make a meaningful dent in unemployment and poverty.

Anger at the worsening economy has at times spilled into violent protests and rioting, including in July last year when more than 300 people were killed and hundreds of businesses destroyed in riots that began as grievances over the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.

Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo Editing by James Macharia Chege

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