Date: 24 March 2019 By: Anton van Zyl
Does Limpopo really have the lowest unemployment rate in the country, standing at 16,5%? This was proclaimed by Premier Chupu Mathabatha during his State of the Province Address last month.
Premier Mathabatha quoted from a Stats South Africa report, indicating that the provincial economy has been able to create 317 000 jobs since 2014. “Our unemployment rate is currently 16,5% against the national average of 27,1%” said the premier.
The statistics provided caused a number of eyebrows to lift, with many arguing that this is little more than a pre-election stunt, with a very selective use of statistics. As the quote (from presumably British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli) goes: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
We pulled up the latest Stats SA labour force survey to check the figures and verify the premier’s statement.
It turns out that Premier Mathabatha is correct about the “official” unemployment rate in Limpopo, which stood at 16,5% at the end of the fourth quarter of 2018. He could (and perhaps should) also have highlighted the number of people who managed to find a job since the last quarter of 2017. Stats SA’s survey puts that at 59 000 people, a 4,2% increase. Only Gauteng (172 000) and KwaZulu-Natal (135 000) could do better.
However, what the premier did not quote, was the expanded unemployment rate. In this category Limpopo came in joint second (last) with the Eastern Cape, showing a 2% year-on-year increase. Only North-West (2,3% increase) did worse. In Limpopo, the figure went up to 38,8%, from 36,8% the year before, which is also much higher than provinces such as Gauteng (33,6%) and the Western Cape (23,1%).
The difference between the official unemployment rate and the expanded unemployment rate is quite important. To be “officially” unemployed, you need to be between 15 and 64 years of age and must actively seek work. The expanded unemployment rate is a broader definition where people who are “available” for work, but who are not necessarily actively looking for a job, are also counted. These include “discouraged work seekers”, i.e. people who have stopped looking for work for a variety of reasons.
The premier of Limpopo’s reference to the 317 000 jobs created since 2014 may also be a bit misleading. Because of a growth in the population, the labour force, in theory, also grows. In December 2017, the number of people between the ages of 15 and 64 in Limpopo stood at 3,705 million. This increased by 51 000 to 3,756 million in December 2018.
Interestingly enough, the labour force in Limpopo increased from 1,763 million in December 2017 to 1,821 million in the third quarter of 2018. It then decreased by 53 000 to 1,769 million in the last quarter. The number of employed people increased by 59 000 (year-on-year) to 1,477 million. The number of “not economically active” people increased by 46 000 during the year to 1,987 million. Stats SA calculated that the province had about 163 000 more “discouraged work seekers” at the end of 2018.
Having a look at the driving forces behind employment in the province is also worthwhile. The trade industry is the biggest employer, absorbing 354 000 people (as calculated in the last quarter of 2018), followed by community and social services (329 000). The construction industry employed 146 000 people.
Agriculture came in fourth, employing 138 000 people, followed by private households that employed 120 000 workers. The finance industry also provided 120 000 jobs. Mining provided 106 000 work opportunities, manufacturing 91 000, transport 56 000 and utilities created jobs for 15 000 workers.
Some of the other interesting facts for Limpopo mentioned in the report are:
* In the last quarter of 2018, 203 000 people made a living as subsistence farmers;
* 851 000 people fetched water or collected dung; and
* 44 000 people did construction work or repairs to their own houses.
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror since 1990. He graduated at the the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.