A few days before last week’s state of the nation address (Sona), in the middle of promises of disruption and despondency, Stats SA published the quarterly labour force survey. This suggested that, notwithstanding marginal improvements in employment creation, the proportion of the population with jobs remained largely unchanged between the third and the fourth quarters of 2019.

But if the SA economy created 45,000 jobs — fewer than during the usual December holiday rush — why did the unemployment rate not improve? The answer to this lies in two related areas of our labour market. Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke observed that it was the first time since the 2007/2008 financial crisis that unemployment did not decline in the fourth quarter. Something is surely happening on the shop floor and at the factory gate...

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