The one province in South Africa with more people unemployed than working – and a second fast approaching

 ·15 May 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, although the Eastern Cape is not far behind.

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QFLS), published by Statistics South Africa on Tuesday (20 February), shows that the official unemployment increased by 0.8% from 32.1% in the fourth quarter of 2023 to 32.9% in the first quarter of 2024.

According to the data, the number of unemployed persons increased by 330,000 to 8.2 million over the same quarter.

Moreover, the number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement decreased by 214,000 to 13.1 million.

The number of discouraged work-seekers decreased by 1,000 in Q1 2024 compared to the fourth quarter of 2023, causing a net decrease of 215,000 in the not economically active population.

The industries that contributed to the net employment decline include Community and social services (-122,000), Construction (-106,000), Finance (-50,000) and Utilities (-17,000).

However, Trade (+109,000), Manufacturing (+99,000), Private households (+44,000), Transport (+39,000), Agriculture (+21,000) and Mining (+9,000) recorded the largest employment gains.

Provincial performance

Provincially, employment losses were recorded in the Western Cape (-17,000), North West (-13,000), Mpumalanga (-8,000), and the Eastern and Northern Capes (-4,000 and -3,000, respectively).

Compared to Q4 2023, the largest employment increase was recorded in KwaZulu-Natal (+35,000), followed by Gauteng (+26,000) and the Northern Cape (+4,000) 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 21.4%, meaning it has the most people working versus unemployed in the country.

This is then followed by the Northern Cape (28.3%), Kwa-Zulu Natal (29.9%) and Limpopo (32.7%).

Additionally, the Western Cape is the only province that has consistently been well below the South African national 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 26% to 54%, 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 53.6%.

This is closely followed by the Eastern Cape, which sits dangerously at 49.1%.

Read: New number plates for Gauteng – relief for drivers as ‘launch’ date approaches

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