Unemployed graduate. Picture: SOWETAN
Unemployed graduate. Picture: SOWETAN

SA’s unemployment rate fell to 24.5% of the labour force in the fourth quarter of the year from 25.5% in the third quarter, official data showed on Thursday.

In its quarterly labour force survey which polls households, Statistics SA said this amounted to 5.2-million people without work in the fourth quarter compared with 5.4-million previously.

The expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people who have stopped looking for work, was at 33.8% in the fourth quarter from 34.4% previously.

Employment in the formal sector increased by 250,000 with growth in the finance and trade sectors, while the largest job losses were seen in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

Analysts said the modest decline in joblessness did not take away from the problem of stubbornly high unemployment in Africa’s most industrialised but ailing economy.

"We’ve hardly seen any meaningful or sustained job creation and that is symptomatic of the poor internal growth environment," ETM Analytics economist Jana van der Venter said.

FNB analyst Jason Muscat pointed out that the unemployment rate increase by 0.2 percentage points compared with the fourth quarter of 2014, and said the quarter-on-quarter increase was due to seasonal hiring.

In his budget speech on Wednesday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan cut the 2016 growth forecast to 0.9% from 1.7% previously, and said the government would reduce infrastructure spending and freeze public service jobs.

The government has said it aims to reduce unemployment to about 6% by 2030, mainly through large, state-led infrastructure programmes.