Grim UN report shows half-a-billion people struggling to find work

ALMOST half-a-billion people around the world battle to find sufficient paid work, a UN report on employment and social trends shows.

The World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2020  (WESO) report by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) predicts that unemployment figures will rise by around 2.5m this year. Global unemployment has been roughly stable for the past nine years – but slowing economic growth means not enough new jobs are being generated.

Guy Ryder, the director-general of ILO, points to “persisting and substantial work-related inequalities and exclusion”. The trend had “profound and worrying implications for social cohesion”, he warns.

The WESO report shows that a disparity between labour supply and demand extends beyond unemployment into broader labour under-utilisation. As well as the 188m people unemployed around the world, 165m don’t have enough paid work – and 120m have given up searching.

Inequality is higher than previously thought, especially in developing countries. Worldwide, the share of national income going to labour (rather than to other factors of production) declined from 54 percent to 51 between 2004 and 2017. That’s a greater fall than expected, and most pronounced in Europe, Central Asia and the Americas.

Moderate or extreme working poverty is expected to hamper the achievement UN Sustainable Development Goal 1 (eradicating poverty everywhere by 2030). Working poverty – earning less than $3.20 per day – affects more than 630m people: one in five of the global working population.

Other significant inequalities – defined by gender, age and geographic location – remain stubborn features of labour markets, the report says, limiting individual opportunities and general economic growth.

More than 267m people aged 15-24 are currently not in employment, education or training, and many more endure substandard working conditions.

The report cautions that intensifying trade restrictions and protectionism could have a significant impact on employment. The ILO found that the current pace and form of economic growth is hampering efforts to reduce poverty and improve working conditions in low-income countries. The report recommends that growth shifts in focus to encourage higher-value-added activities through structural transformation, technological upgrading and diversification.

“We will only find a sustainable, inclusive path of development if we tackle these kinds of labour market inequalities and gaps in access to decent work,” says the report’s lead author, Stefan Kühn.