Only 43.1% of adult South Africans, or just more than four of every 10 of us, have paid jobs of any sort. When we talk about economic exclusion and the urgent need for SA’s economy to be far more inclusive, that surely goes to the heart of it. On the face of it, however, the third-quarter figures seem to provide some reason for optimism. Unemployment rose because many people — almost a quarter of a million of them — who had previously given up looking for work were reported to have popped up again and started looking, causing them to join the ranks of the officially unemployed. That drove up the unemployment rate even though, according to the labour force survey, the economy created 288,000 new jobs during the third quarter. That would be most encouraging, but while this survey tends to show the broad trends quite accurately, the details tend to be wildly volatile and often inexplicable. So, for example, agricultural employment suddenly jumped by almost 7% in the third quarter, in t...

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