FACT CHECK: Does SA have the world’s ‘worst levels’ of youth unemployment?

A recent opinion piece on the news website Independent Online claims that in South Africa “youth unemployment is at the worst levels of anywhere in the world”.

As the country looks to repair the economic damage caused by Covid-19 and the national lockdown, concerns about unemployment have risen.

What share of the country’s youth is currently unemployed? And how does this compare to the rest of the world? We looked at the latest figures.


There is no standard global definition of “youth”. This can complicate comparisons of youth unemployment across countries.

For example, South Africa’s National Youth Commission Act defines the youth as people aged from 14 to 35. But Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Surveys do not collect data on 14 year olds.

And international organisations, such as the UN, generally consider the youth to include people aged from 15 to 24.


In April to June 2020, 2.5 million young people aged 15 to 34 were unemployed in South Africa, according to Statistics South Africa. The age group’s unemployment rate was 34.1%.

This is according to the narrow definition of unemployment, which only counts people who took active steps to look for work or start some form of self-employment in the four weeks before they were interviewed.

When the expanded definition is considered, the unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 34 rises to 55.2%. This definition includes unemployed people who have given up looking for work.

How do these figures compare to other countries?


The International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, calculates annual unemployment statistics for 189 countries, territories and areas of the world. Their estimates provide data on youth aged from 15 to 24.

Data for 2020 shows South Africa has the highest unemployment rate for this age group. Neighbouring Namibia, eSwatini and Botswana ranked in third, seventh and ninth place.

Highest youth unemployment rates in 2020