Amogelang Mbatha and Xola Potelwa

South Africa jobless rate falls to 24.5% in fourth quarter

South Africa’s unemployment rate declined to 24.5 percent in the fourth quarter as the increased employment in the finance industry offset job losses in agriculture and construction.

The jobless rate fell from 25.5 percent in the previous three months, Statistics South Africa said in a report released on Thursday in the capital, Pretoria. The median of seven economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg was 25.6 percent. The number of people without jobs decreased by 225,000 to 5.2 million.

Africa’s second-largest economy has struggled to boost employment since the 2009 recession and has the highest jobless rate of more than 60 countries tracked by Bloomberg. Falling commodity prices, the worst drought in more than a century and rising wage demands are curbing work opportunities.

“Job creation remains one of the most pressing concerns for the economy,” the National Treasury said in the Budget Review tabled by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in Cape Town on Wednesday. “Given the large number of jobless South Africans and the increasing skills intensity of production, policy interventions to support sectors that can create jobs for low-skilled workers are critical.”

The economy will probably expand 0.9 percent this year, the slowest pace since the recession, according to the government. Gordhan announced on Wednesday the state will reduce spending targets by 25 billion rand ($1.6 billion) over the next three years, mainly by lowering its wage bill through cutting posts in the civil service which are vacant or non-critical.