The only province in South Africa where more people are unemployed than working

 ·20 Feb 2024

While the Eastern Cape has the highest ‘narrow’ unemployment rate in South Africa, when factoring in discouraged work seekers, the North-West province tops the list – and has more people unemployed than working.

South Africa’s unemployment rate trended upwards in the fourth quarter of 2023 due to the inflated cost of living, high interest rates and fuel prices, and continued load shedding.

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QFLS), published by Statistics South Africa on Tuesday (20 February), shows that the official unemployment increased by 0.2% from 31.9% in the third quarter of 2023 to 32.1% in the fourth quarter.

According to the data, the number of unemployed persons increased by 46,000 to 7.9 million during the same quarter.

Additionally, the number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement increased by 218,000 to 13.4 million, while discouraged work seekers decreased by 107,000 in the fourth quarter of 2023 compared to the third quarter of 2023.

The national stats service noted that this resulted in a net increase of 111,000 in the not economically active population.

The industries that contributed to the net employment decline include Community and social services (-171,000), Construction (-36,000), Agriculture (-35,000), Trade (-28,000) and Manufacturing (-1,000).

However, Finance (+128,000), Transport (+57,000), Mining (+37,000) and Private households (+18,000) recorded the largest employment gains.

Provincial performance

Provincially, employment losses were recorded in the Eastern Cape (-111,000), Limpopo (-40,000), North West (-30,000) and Northern Cape (-2,000).

Compared to Q3 2023, the largest employment increase was recorded in KwaZulu-Natal (+62,000), followed by Mpumalanga (+48,000) and Western Cape (+23,000) during the same period.

The provinces with the most employed

According to the latest data, the Western Cape has the lowest unemployment rate (standard definition) in South Africa at 20.3%, meaning it has the most people working versus unemployed in the country.

This is then followed by the Northern Cape (26.9%), Kwa-Zulu Natal (29.5%) and Limpopo (30.3%).

Additionally, the Western Cape is the only province that has consistently been well below the South African average official unemployment rate over the past ten years, with KZN toeing the line.

By contrast, over the last ten years, the Eastern Cape has consistently been above the average official unemployment rate.

However, looking at the expanded definition of unemployment – which includes discouraged workseekers – the situation is far more dire for most provinces.

The extended unemployment rate in South Africa’s provinces ranges from 25% to 52%, with the Western Cape being the only province with a rate below 30% on the expanded definition.

One province – the North West – has more adults out of work and not looking than people who are employed, with an unemployment rate of 52.2%.

This is closely followed by the Eastern Cape, which sits at 47.1%.

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