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Half a billion struggle to find work: UN

January 21, 2020

A new United Nations report shows more than 470 million people are unemployed or underemployed globally. The report said a lack of access to decent jobs is contributing to social unrest — and warns that worse is to come.

A job center in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/W. Steinberg

More than 470 million people worldwide are currently unemployed or underemployed, the United Nations has revealed in a new report compiled by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The global unemployment rate remained relatively stable during the 2010s, according to the report. But the global unemployment rate is expected to rise by 2.5 million in 2020, from 188 million to 190.5 million people.

"For millions of working people, it is becoming increasingly difficult, I think, to build better lives through work," ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters in Geneva.

The annual World Employment and Social Outlook report stressed not only the unemployed but also the underemployed. Some 285 million people worldwide are considered underemployed, meaning they either work less than they want to, have given up searching for work or otherwise lack access to the labor market.

The figure of 470 million represents around 13% of the global labor force, the report said.

Is social unrest linked to unemployment rates?

The link between social unrest and unemployment and underemployment is a key part of the new report.

"Labor market conditions are contributing to this erosion of social cohesion in many of our societies," said Ryder, referring to mass demonstrations in places like Lebanon and Chile.

According to the ILO's "social unrest index," measuring the frequency of things like demonstrations and strikes, there was an increase both at the global level and in seven out of 11 regions between 2009 and 2019.

Read more: Another brick in the wall? The downside of Britain's jobs boom

The figure of 267 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 not in employment, education or training may be a key factor in this. Many young people in employment endure substandard working conditions.

The report also reiterated the vast inequality between the world's highest and lowest earners. Female participation in the workforce remained at 47%, 27 percentage points below the male figure.

"We are not going where we want to go," Ryder said. "The situation is worse than we previously thought."

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ed/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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