World unemployment hits record

Global unemployment hit a record in 2009 and is likely to remain high over the coming year despite a recovery in the world economy, the International Labour Organisation has warned.

In its annual Global Economic Trends, the UN agency says the number of jobless worldwide soared by an unprecedented 34m over the two years from end-2007 to reach nearly 212m or 6.6 per cent of the global labour force.

These are the highest figures since the ILO began collecting data on a comparable basis following the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991. They would have been even worse without the economic stimulus measures put in place by many governments, the report says.

Juan Somavia, ILO director-general, said avoiding a jobless recovery should be the top political priority of decision-makers gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum. “We need the same policy decisiveness that saved banks now applied to save and create jobs and livelihoods of people,” he said.

The ILO’s jobless figures relate to open unemployment and are indicative rather than precise. Statistics for many poor countries, especially in Africa, are non-existent or unreliable, and since most people in these countries are not covered by social benefits they tend to drift into low-paid informal activities or subsistence agriculture and are thus not counted as unemployed.

Over half the global workforce or more than 1.5bn people are estimated to be in what the ILO calls “vulnerable employment”, defined as own-account workers and family workers.

Some 630m workers and their families were living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, in 2008 and their number could have increased by as many as 215m in 2009, the ILO estimates.

The ILO is urging governments to implement its Global Jobs Pact , which focuses on policies to generate employment and establish and extend basic social protection systems.

In terms of open unemployment, the report says young people have been hit hardest by the global economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of 13.4 per cent globally, twice the average for all workers.

In rich countries, the jobless total rose by nearly 14m between 2007 and 2009, and the ILO expects another 3m to join the dole queues this year, pushing up the unemployment rate, now 8.4 per cent, to 8.9 per cent in 2010.

Elsewhere, unemployment may stabilise or decline only slightly, the report says.

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