Revisiting South African Employment Trends in the 1990’s

by ALTMAN, M, 2008
South African Journal of Economics Vol. 76:S2 August 2008

This article revisits South African employment trends recorded since 1995. In particular, it investigates whether the job losses and gains recorded by the October Household Survey jobs in the mid-1990s reflect the reality. This is done by comparing the different official data sets, and by exploring alternative sources of information for three sectors that substantially influenced this trend, namely formal agriculture, mining, and community, social and personal services. Potential inconsistencies within the October Household data are assessed, particularly in relation to the distribution of employees across formal and informal sectors and the categorisation of unpaid family workers. The implications of possible changes to the employment trend from 1995-2006 are considered. This article finds that the evidence is strong enough to call into question published employment trends. According to the October Household Survey, formal employment fell by 1.4 million between 1995 and 1997. The OHS and Labour Force Survey shows that formal employment then grew by 1.9 million between 1997 and 2006. According to the revised figures presented in this paper, 73,000 to 530,000 formal jobs were lost between 1995 and 1997 and 1.4 million net new jobs were created between 1997 and 2006. It is therefore possible that the plummeting and “recovery” of employment in the 1990s were both considerably less dramatic than that reflected in the official statistics.