by Piet Coetzer

Unemployment progress: Ipsos Pulse of the People Survey

Long way to go with job creation and gender equality

Work is still in short supply
Work still in short supply.jpg

While the issues of slow job creation, unemployment and inequality have been targeted as areas of urgent focus by government, a just-released survey found that only 38% of the adult population are employed. So how well is government doing at rectifying the problem? 

A socio-political survey released last week by the research firm, Ipsos, under the title, Pulse of the People, found that less than four in every ten adult South Africans (38%) are employed on either a full-time or a part-time basis and almost three in every ten (28%) are unemployed and looking for work.

If the percentage of people surveyed who are students (13%), retired (11%) and 'home executives' (4%) are taken out of the equation, the percentage of employed adults jumps to 52%. If the further 6% of “unemployed but not searching,” is also excluded, the percentage rises to 57%.

In a statement at the release of the survey, Ipsos said that in all surveys conducted since 1994, and which address these issues, unemployment and the slow process of job creation are mentioned as some of the biggest problems in South Africa.

It is also one of the 26 policy areas on which government delivery is measured on a six-monthly basis in the Government Performance Barometer, also published by Ipsos.

The question asked is how well the government is doing on “reducing unemployment by creating jobs”. In November 2012, only a third (33%) of adults in South Africa have indicated that the government is doing “very well” or “fairly well” in addressing this issue.

Although the supporters of the ruling party are prepared to give the government more credit for addressing this issue, it is still a relatively low score at 40%. Democratic Alliance supporters display more criticism of the government’s performance in this area.

However, it is clear that this is not only a burning issue for those looking for work. There is virtually no difference in the scores received from those South Africans who are working (34%) and those not working (32%) who say the government is doing “very well'' or “fairly well” on this issue.


Poverty is closely related to the issue of employment – and therefore the ability to earn money. Respondents are also asked to share their monthly total household income. Since this is a sensitive question, almost four in every ten (39%) did not volunteer this information in the latest survey. The average number of people per household who earn an income in South Africa is 1,64. 

One quarter of households in South Africa earned more than R5000 a month. About 9% and 7% of households earned a monthly income of between R5000 and R7999 and R8000 and R11 999 respectively, while another 9% earned R12 000 and more a month.

While 16% and 12% of the households surveyed reported earning between R2500 - R4999 and R1200 - R2499 respectively, 8% said they earned less than R1199 a month.

Although it is usually perceived that the more affluent do not want to disclose their incomes, if we compare the working status data of adult South Africans with the working status data of this group (39% of adults) who did not disclose information about their household income, it is clear that those who are unemployed and looking for work are making up a third of the group who cannot or will not disclose income information.

Gender inequality

A larger proportion of females (31%) are unemployed and looking for work. One in every four males (25%) are unemployed and looking for work. More importantly, a smaller proportion of females than males are receiving tertiary education. 

The economic position of women is thus doubly compromised as fewer women have the ability to earn money and fewer women will get a tertiary education, which would enable them to get a well-paid position in future.

A few other issues about gender equality are also relevant:

  • Just over half of South Africans think that progress has been made since 1994 in the area of women’s rights.

  • However, a substantial proportion of more than a quarter (27%) believe that jobs should rather go to men than women.

  • Almost one in every five (18%) say that the right to education (guaranteed in the constitution) is a male prerogative.

Inequality also manifests itself on other levels, and it is also interesting to note that less than half of adult South Africans (44%) feel that the government is doing 'very' or 'fairly well' with the challenge of “narrowing the income gap between different race groups”.

The survey, undertaken between late October and early December, questioned 3 560 South Africans of 15 years and older. However, those below the age of 18 were filtered out of the results.

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