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ILO: Record Number Unemployed in 2003 - 2004-01-22

The International Labor Organization says a record number of people were unemployed around the world last year. In its just-released annual jobs report, the ILO says nearly 186 million people either had no work or were looking for jobs in 2003.

The ILO report says that one in four workers around the world is unemployed or living on less than $1 a day. It also says women have a tough time finding regular employment and that many tend to work in the so-called informal economy to eke out a living.

But, the ILO says, young people aged 15 to 24 are the hardest hit. It reports that they face a crushing unemployment rate of 14.4 percent, which is more than twice that of adults.

The report says there has been a slow economic recovery in industrialized countries during the past two years, especially in the second half of 2003. But in the case of the United States, this has not translated into more jobs.

One ILO economic analyst and one of the authors of the report, Lawrence Johnson, says this is largely because U.S. companies have been slow to respond to the growing economy.

"The U.S. labor market is a very flexible labor market," he said. "They can adjust rapidly. What we have seen lately is the employers have been slow to rehire. They have liquidated inventories. And, it is expected with continued growth and stronger domestic demand, that we will see employment growth within the U.S. I do not think it is really a question of if we see employment growth in the U.S. I think it is more of a question of when."

The ILO report finds that both the European Union and Japan have done somewhat better than the United States in creating jobs. It also notes that after years of increases in unemployment, the transition economies of eastern and central Europe appear to have reversed this trend, with unemployment falling in 2003.

The picture in Asia is mixed. Although East Asia's economy grew by more than seven percent, the report finds an increase in unemployment. On the other hand, it says unemployment in Southeast Asia declined significantly.

The report finds a slight drop in unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean. In contrast, it notes that unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa, which stands at 12.2 percent, is the highest in the world.

Mr. Johnson says there has been a slight reduction in the unemployment rate in sub-Saharan Africa, but not enough to improve the high number of working poor, which is running at 45 percent.

"In addition, if you look at the issues of HIV and AIDS and their impact on the labor market as well as the brain drain, this causes great concern for labor markets in sub-Saharan Africa," said Lawrence Johnson. " With labor force growth expected of slightly less than three percent and an ever-increasing number of people competing for limited jobs in the formal sector, this creates great challenges for the sub-region."

Mr. Johnson says African countries will have to create eight million jobs each year for the next 12 years if it is to achieve the U.N. millennium development goals of cutting poverty in half by 2015.