SA has two major labour market surveys, both run by StatsSA. They both use acceptable methodology. But their messages differ somewhat.
The Quarterly Employment Statistics (QES) survey of registered businesses and organisations reported (core) formal employment to have reached 8.9 million by 3Q15.
In contrast, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) held quarterly among some 30 000 households reached a level of 10.9 million formal jobs by 3Q15.
The difference between these two surveys, some 2 million formal jobs, probably reflect mostly the self-employed with sufficient work & high incomes to qualify as “formally” employed.
According to the LFS reporting yesterday on 3Q15, formal jobs rose by 87 000 to 10.9 million, while informal jobs rose by 625 000 to 4.9 million compared to 12 months ago.
These gains probably include a fair amount of reclassification, for whereas the unemployed increased by 267 000 year-on-year to 5.4 million, the number of discouraged yoy fell by 287 000 to 2.2 million, keeping the total unemployed & discouraged at 7.6 million, nearly unchanged yoy.
This suggested an inclusive unemployment rate of 32.6%, a slight improvement compared to a year ago.
For formal employment to rise by 0.8% and informal employment to rise by 12.5% in a 12 month period while the economy grew by less than 1.5% is nothing short of incredible. Indeed, it isn't believable.
What is conceivable is that better StatsSA surveying is succeeding in unearthing more economic activity previously not recognised, especially among informally employed, allowing some people to be reclassified, even though their economic contribution overall is probably so marginal as not to make much of a difference to the overall GDP growth data.
Still, there is apparently more going on economically among the unemployed and discouraged than can easily be measured, something also suggested by some anecdotal evidence.
Be that as it may, out of a total labour force of 23.5 million, fully one-third keeps being identified as not gainfully engaged, and probably along with their many dependents surviving mainly on social grants & family networks.
It remains a highly challenging social environment, for which reason ever more protest from every conceivable part of the urban population.