While unemployment across the board in South Africa is increasing, the youth aged 15 to 34 have borne the brunt of the global economic crisis and the subsequent sluggish employment recovery with a higher unemployment rate than adults. According to Statistics SA’s report, National and provincial labour market: Youth – Q1: 2008 – Q1: 2015, the unemployment rate among youth rose from 32,7% in 2008 to 36,1% in 2011, and has remained between 35% and 37% every year.
The rate also increased among adults but by a smaller margin.

The impact of the recession also resulted in a larger decline in the absorption rate among youth (by 5,2 percentage points over the period 2008–2011) than among adults (by 3,3 percentage points over the same period). In five provinces, the decline in the rate among youth was higher than the national average, ranging from 4,7 percentage points in North West to as high as 6,3 percentage points in Gauteng.

The vulnerability of youth in the South African labour market is also evidenced by the fact that young men and women together accounted for the bulk of the increase in discouraged work-seekers in the aftermath of the recession. As a result, the percentage of working-age youth that became discouraged rose from 4,4% in 2008 to a peak of 8,4% in 2012 before falling back moderately to 7,8% in 2015.

The proportion of working-age young women that is discouraged is higher among young women compared to their male counterparts. Not only is it higher among black African youth than among youth in the other population groups but over the period 2008–2015, the proportion among black African youth increased by the largest amount. In Eastern Cape, Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal one in every 10 working-age youth gave up looking for work and become discouraged in 2015. In contrast, discouragement among youth in Western Cape and Gauteng at 1,2% and 3,3% is the lowest of all the provinces.

The education level of employed youth has a direct influence on the types of jobs they are able to get. In 2015, one in every two black African (54,0%) and coloured (53,3%) youth aged 15–24 years who had jobs, had education levels below the secondary level (matric). In contrast, the proportion of the Indian/Asian and white population groups with that education level was substantially smaller at 17,3% and 12,4% respectively. The disaggregation of youth into five-year age cohorts reveals that in 2015, among youth who had jobs, one in every ten (12,8%) aged 15–19 years only had an education level of primary or lower.

The distribution of occupations by population group reflects the differences in the education profile of each group. Whereas in 2015, only 13,1% of black African youth and 10,5% of coloured youth had skilled occupations, one in every three (36,2%) of Indian/Asian youth and 53,4% of white youth had such occupations.

Unemployed youth aged 25–34 years who are actively looking for work are in a particularly precarious situation in the labour market. In 2015, as many as 57,1% of such youth within the black African and 70,1% within the coloured population group only have education below the matric level. Smaller proportions of such youth in the Indian/Asian (40,7%) and white (26,0%) population groups have qualifications below the matric level.

The NEET rate for young women aged 15–24 years at 35,8% in 2015 was 2,9 percentage points above the average for the country (32,9%) and 5,8 percentage points higher than that of male youth (30,0%) of the same age.

The Trade industry is the major source of employment for youth, accounting for 23,3% of their employment in 2015. And reflecting the impact of the recession, the share of Trade in total employment declined by the largest amount over the period 2008–2015 (down by 3,9 percentage points).

Differences in the employment opportunities available to youth in the formal and informal sectors of the economy are large. Whereas in 2015 nine out of every ten (90,9%) youth from the white population group and 86,4% from the Indian/Asian group had jobs in the formal sector, only 71,7% of youth from the coloured population group and 67,6% from the black African group had formal sector jobs. In contrast, the informal sector provided a livelihood for one out of every five black African youth (19,4% in 2015) but accounted for only 6,0–13,0% of jobs among youth in the other population groups.

Increases in the incidence of long-term unemployment over the period 2008–2015 have been more pronounced among both male (up by 8,3 percentage points) and female youth (up by 6,4 percentage points) than among their adult counterparts.

The increase in the incidence of long-term unemployment among youth, from 54,7% in 2008 to a peak of 68,0% in 2011, reflects a rise in the incidence in every province. The largest increases among youth occurred in Mpumalanga (22,5 percentage points), Eastern Cape (13,9 percentage points), and Free State (13,5 percentage points). In contrast, the increase in these provinces among adults was substantially smaller at 7,4, 1,2 and 7percentage points respectively.

The proportion of unemployed young people with no work experience is higher than that of adults by a large margin. Every year over the period 2008–2015, one in every two unemployed young people had no work experience as against 11% to 16% of adults who were in that situation.

Young men are more likely to have worked before than young women; over the period 2008–2015 more than one in every two unemployed young women (53% – 59,0%) had no work experience, compared with 48,0–54,0% of young men who were in a similar situation.

Over the period 2008–2015 there was a relatively large shift in the type of contracts young employees had – away from permanent and unspecified duration contracts into those of a limited duration (up by 5,7 percentage points as against 3,4 percentage points among adults). And the increase among young female employees was higher than among their male counterparts.

To the extent that the family network provides an important support mechanism, the livelihood of youth living in households in which no one is employed is cause for concern. In 2008, one in every four youth lived in households in which no one was employed (23,5%). This percentage rose to a peak of 28,3% in 2012 before declining to 27,5% in 2015.