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UN Predicts Rise in World Unemployment

  • Lisa Schlein

Afghan workers shovel coal outside Kabul, earning an average of $10 a day, Jan. 19, 2015.

Afghan workers shovel coal outside Kabul, earning an average of $10 a day, Jan. 19, 2015.

Global unemployment is likely to rise over the next five years, and the combination of increasing joblessness and widening inequalities could lead to growing turbulence in many societies, the International Labor Organization warns in a new report.

The United Nations agency forecasts that more than 212 million people worldwide will be out of work by 2019, up from 201 million now. In “World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2015,” it said more than 61 million jobs have been lost since the global economic crisis started in 2008. It predicted the tepid recovery means unemployment levels will rise until the current decade’s end.

A related new U.N. report anticipates modest economic growth worldwide over the next two years.

A likely trigger for social unrest will be young people, between the ages of 15 and 24, who are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, the labor organization’s report said. In 2014, youth unemployment was almost 13 percent.

ILO research chief Raymond Torres said analyses by his organization and by others, such as the International Monetary Fund, showed an undeniable connection between social unrest and the labor market.

"There is a link between inequalities and the ability for economies to rebound, to recover," Torres said. "In high inequality countries, it is more difficult to rebound than in low inequality countries."

Social unrest has increased in tandem with the rising unemployment rate, now reaching a level almost 10 percent higher than when the crisis began in 2008.

Disparities in employment and income also feed distrust of governments, the reports said.

Extreme poverty affects 1 in 10 workers

Some 319 million workers, or one out of 10 globally, earn less than $1.25 a day and live in extreme poverty, said the organization’s director-general, Guy Ryder.

"Though those figures have come down in recent years, the rate of decline has been retarded quite significantly in the period of the crisis," Torres said.

Middle class grows

FILE - Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO) during a news conference in Geneva, May 26, 2014.

FILE - Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO) during a news conference in Geneva, May 26, 2014.

But Ryder also offered a bright spot. "The global middle class continues to grow," he said, saying its members now make up 34 percent of workers in the developing world, up from 20 percent in the 1990s.

The labor organization’s report found that employment rates have improved in the United States while unemployment remains high in many advanced economies, particularly in Europe.

It noted that three-quarters of the world’s vulnerable employees – those who are self-employed or are unpaid family workers – are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of working poverty and vulnerable employment across all regions, the report observed.

It said the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has taken a significant toll on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The employment outlook has deteriorated in the Arab region and parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said.

It projected employment prospects in many advanced economies and several Asian countries may improve if the steep decline in oil and gas prices continues.

But, it said, labor markets will suffer in oil- and gas-producing countries, especially in Latin America, Africa and the Arab region.

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