After a couple of delays, Stats SA released the second quarter jobs report earlier this week, showing that unemployment decreased to 23.3% from 30.1% in Q1. “Wherefore,” we hear you cry. Well, it all comes down to semantics. Let’s hand over to the bearded worthies at Stats SA for some elucidation: “This sharp fall in the unemployment rate in quarter 2 is not a reflection of an improvement in the labour market but rather an effect of the national lockdown, since the official definition of unemployment requires that people look for work and are available for work.” Ah, so a more realistic number to look at then is expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people no longer looking for work, the rate of which stands at an alarming 42%. In total, the number of people employed formally in the South African economy decreased by 2.2 million since quarter 1, and one in five of the employed had a reduction in their pay/salary during the lockdown. But it doesn’t end there… 25.9% of respondents indicated that they thought they might lose their jobs or close their business due to COVID-19 in the four weeks succeeding the survey interview. In better news (nice try. Ed), the dear old South African Reserve Bank says that its composite business cycle indicator for the month of July suggests that we are on the road to recovery – although it does not provide details of the likely timing or scale.
Comment: The unemployment numbers, however, provide a stark reminder that a return to the pre-COVID status quo is not really a recovery in any meaningful sense.