Bleak jobs data for South Africa at the start of 2021

The second wave of infections and associated lockdown at the start of 2021 led to net job losses with significant labour market churn, according to the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).

The NIDS-CRAM is a study conducted by a national consortium of 30 social science researchers from local universities, as well as groups like the Human Sciences Research Council and the Department of Education.

The survey is a comprehensive and nationally representative survey of how the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown impacted South African households, with a particular focus on income and employment.

The study shows that between October 2020 and January 2021 the percentage of employed adults (18-64 years) in the NIDS-CRAM cross-sectional sample declined from 55% to 52%. This was mirrored by drops of a similar magnitude of two to three percentage points across all age groups.


Between October 2020 and January 2021 there was still significant churning in the labour market with about one-fifth of those employed in October not employed in January, and about a fifth of those not employed in October finding work in January.

Rates of job finding among the non-employed were similar across age groups, while job loss was strongly and negatively correlated with age.

Comparing outcomes for youth (18-24), prime-age adults (25-40) and middle-aged adults (41-55) it is clear that the youth were most affected by job losses.

Job loss for the youth was more than double (-31%) job losses for middle-aged adults (-13%) and also much higher than for prime-age adults (-19%).

“These results indicate a worsening in employment and transition outcomes in response to the second wave of Covid-19 infections and the more stringent lockdown level, but that the declines in employment were relatively small compared to the effects of the initial Covid-19 April lockdown level 5,” the researchers said.

The study shows that women were more negatively affected than men even after controlling for individual and household factors.

“Comparing employment dynamics between February 2020 and January 2021 indicates that, where jobs were lost, women were more likely to lose, and where jobs were gained, women were less likely to benefit.

“Of those women who started out employed in February 2020, 70% still had employment in January 2021. For men, the corresponding figure was 78%.”

Of women who started out not employed pre-Covid, 19% had employment in January 2021, with the corresponding figure for men 31%.

“This female penalty cannot be explained away by controlling for region, education, age, race, marital status and household composition,” the researchers said.

Hardest hit 

The type of job matters with women more likely to be in sectors hardest hit by the crisis, the researchers said.

Women were more likely to be in sectors that were hardest hit by the crisis, and perhaps also less likely to have the skills or training to take up new opportunities available.

Those workers in jobs that enable them to work from home are more advantaged than others during the lockdowns.

Employees in formal jobs are more likely to be unable to work from home than their counterparts in informal jobs.

For occupations, workers in elementary occupations and plant and machine operations are less likely to be able to work from home than managers and professionals.

By sector: workers in mining, private households, manufacturing and community, social and personal services are more likely to be unable to work from home compared to workers in financial intermediation.

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Bleak jobs data for South Africa at the start of 2021