Who is most likely to be affected by long-term unemployment?

South Africa’s official unemployment rate is on the increase. In the past 10 years (2008–2018), the unemployment rate has increased from 21,5% to almost 28,0%. Unemployment refers to those persons who were not employed, had taken steps to look for a job or to start a business and were available to take up a job had it been offered. Now, the main hiccup lies with those persons who have been unemployed for longer periods and still do not find any form of employment.

Long-term unemployment refers to people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. The long-term unemployment rate shows the proportion of persons in long-term unemployment among all unemployed persons. According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Q3: 2018, released by Statistics South Africa, 6,2 million South Africans are now unemployed, and 4,3 million of them have been unemployed for a year or longer. Between Q3: 2008 and Q3: 2018, the number of persons who were in long-term unemployment increased by 1,7 million, from 2,6 million in 2008.


This has resulted in the proportion of persons in long-term unemployment increasing by 9,4 percentage points from 59,4% in Q3: 2008 to 68,8% in Q3: 2018.

The most affected persons were women and youth. More men (51,4%) than women were unemployed in 2018 compared to 2008. However, the percentage of women who were in long-term unemployment was higher than that of men in both 2008 and 2018. Long-term unemployment affects the youth more than it affects the adults. Although the percentage of youth in long-term unemployment declined by 7,4 percentage points from 2008 to 2018, about two-thirds of those in long-term unemployment were youth (15–34 years) in 2018.

According to the OECD, long-term unemployment causes significant mental and material stress for those affected and their families. It is also of particular concern for policymakers, as high rates of long-term unemployment indicate that labour markets are operating inefficiently.¹

Once a person has been in long-term unemployment, the probability of finding a job declines, leaving them at risk of being permanently detached from the labour market.

Download the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Q3: 2018 report here


1 https://data.oecd.org/unemp/long-term-unemployment-rate.htm