ILO Issues revised global unemployment projections; Unemployment in Asia Pacific could top 100 million people

The number of people unemployed in 2009 could increase by between 29.4 million and 58.8 million people globally, and between 9 and 26.3 million in Asia Pacific, compared to 2007. That’s according to new projections from the ILO, the United Nations agency that deals with work and workplace issues.

Press release | 28 May 2009

(ILO Bangkok) – The number of people unemployed in 2009 could increase by between 29.4 million and 58.8 million people globally, and between 9 and 26.3 million in Asia Pacific, compared to 2007. That’s according to new projections from the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations agency that deals with work and workplace issues.

This means that the number of people unemployed in the Asia Pacific region as a whole could top 112.2 million people. Furthermore, the number of workers in so-called *vulnerable employment could rise by 52 million, amounting to a total of more than 1.1 billion.

The number of people in working poverty could also increase in a manner that is “extremely disturbing”.

The figures are contained in an ILO report, Global Employment Trends Update May 2009. They follow on from the projections given in the Global Employment Trends (GET) report published in January 2009, which used three different scenarios to project unemployment trends.

The May Update revises all three scenarios but says that the likelihood of the most optimistic one occurring is “now rather small”. Referring to the highest unemployment scenario (58.8 million more unemployed people worldwide, or 26.3 million in Asia Pacific), it says the likelihood of this will be reduced with successful implementation of policies to stimulate aggregate demand and those suggested by the ILO’s proposed Global Jobs Pact, which will be discussed at the International Labour Conference in June.

The report warns that even the middle scenario (which projects 39.4 million more unemployed globally and 13.8 million in Asia Pacific) “suggests an increase in unemployment and ….vulnerable employment that is extremely disturbing….the crisis poses a grave threat to the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of millions”.

The new Update forecasts that the total number of people unemployed worldwide in 2009 would be between 210 million and 239 million (or between 6.5 and 7.4 per cent of the labour force). “This would represent an unprecedented increase in the number of unemployed workers around the world” it says. In East Asia this would mean a total of between 39.6 and 49 million unemployed people (or between 4.7 and 5.8 per cent of the workforce), in South Asia between 32.6 and 37.1 million unemployed (between 5.0 and 5.6 per cent) and in South East Asia and the Pacific between 16 and 18 million unemployed people (between 5.4 and 6.2 per cent).

Vulnerable employment is a major challenge, underscoring the need to include social protection measures in crisis response packages. In South Asia the number of vulnerable workers is projected to rise in all three scenarios, to almost 79 per cent of all workers or 493 million people. In South East Asia and the Pacific, the share of workers in vulnerable employment could rise to around 64.4 per cent (182 million people), and in East Asia to 56.6 per cent, or 458 million people.

Working poverty is also a concern. According to the most pessimistic scenario the number of people working in Asia Pacific but living in households that survive on less than USD1.25 per person per day could rise to 589 million, or more than two-thirds of the global total. The projected sub-region with the largest number of working poor, 382 million workers (61 per cent of the workforce) would be in South Asia

“Given the unprecedented depth of this economic crisis we must be particularly concerned about the vulnerable and the poor,” said Gyorgy Sziraczki, Senior Economist at the ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. “To ensure that the recovery is as quick and inclusive as possible governments should take this opportunity to invest in their labour force, through things like skills training, health and social protection”.

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