For most jobless South Africans, the recent jump in the narrow unemployment rate is just a ripple in the swamp. For over 30 years, six in 10 working-age South Africans have not had paid employment. For them, decent work has been out of reach since long before 1994, leaving them dependent on social grants combined with family and community solidarity.  

The picture is not entirely gloomy. For the past 25 years job creation has more than kept up with population growth. But it has not sufficed to qualitatively shift the backlogs entrenched under apartheid. Since 1994 the proportion of adults with employment in SA has fluctuated around the 40% mark, compared with an average of 60% in other upper-middle-income economies.

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