South Africa’s unemployment rate increased by 1.7 percentage points to 32.5 percent of the labour force in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared with the third, the national statistics agency said on Tuesday.

The expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people discouraged from searching for jobs and those with other reasons for not searching such as restrictions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, however dipped by half a percentage point to 42.6 percent, Statistics South Africa said.

“The number of employed persons increased by 333,000 to 15 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the number of unemployed persons also increased by 701,000 to 7.2 million compared to the third quarter of 2020,” it said in its latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS).

“The movement was proportionately more towards the unemployed than for the employed, which resulted in a significant increase of 1.7 percentage points in the official unemployment rate to 32.5 percent – the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008.”

Young people aged 15-24 years and 25-34 years recorded the highest unemployment rates of 63.2 percent and 41.2 percent respectively, with about 3.1 million out of 10.3 million young people aged 15-24 not being in employment, education or training during the fourth quarter.

In racial and gender terms, black African women were the most vulnerable with an unemployment rate of 38.5 percent.

In the survey, Stats SA included additional questions in the questionnaire to capture changes brought on by the national lockdown enforced by the government from last March, which initially resulted in a near-total shutdown of the economy, resulting in a shock in the labour market and a big change in the way people went about doing their work.

“Of those who continued to receive pay during the lockdown, some had a reduction in their pay/salary during the lockdown,” the statistics agency noted.

“There seems to be some relationship between the level of education and reduction in pay/salary. Those with higher levels of education had higher chances of receiving a full salary than those with lower levels of education in both (the third and fourth quarters).”