More than six million South Africans are without work. In a country of about 55 million people, and a labor force of 22 million, that figure is staggering.
To South Africans, the June 1 news, was more bad news about an economy that has been left rudderless by political infighting, drifting along in a tumultuous post-recession global economy.
The official unemployment rate is now at 27.7%, the highest since 2003. The expanded definition of unemployment, which includes jobseekers who have given up trying to find work, is even higher, at 36.4%.
The unemployment number is threatening to climb to March 2003’s level of 29.3%.
Both employment and unemployment increased in the first quarter of 2017, but the economy’s ability to create jobs was outstripped by the number of people looking for work: 144,000 jobs to 433,000 jobseekers.
Agriculture and the informal sector (in businesses with less than five people or who earn too little to pay income tax) were the worst affected, according to Statistics South Africa. Agriculture lost 44,000 jobs driving up unemployment in rural provinces and placing even more pressure on cities.
South Africa’s failure to fix its economy has only exacerbated the racial inequalities left by apartheid. Black South Africans, the majority in the country, face the most unemployment (31.4%), followed by coloreds (22.9%), a group made of mixed-race South Africans and descendants of slaves and South Africa’s indigenous people. White people had the lowest rate of unemployment (6.6%). The figures are stubbornly consistent compared to previous years.
The youth remain the worst affected by South Africa’s jobs crisis. In the first quarter of this year, 32.4% of people aged 15 to 24 were not employed or in some sort of education or training. By gender, nearly half of women aged 20 to 24 years were categorized as not in employment, education or training, a category of the population known here as NEETS.