ILO releases Global Employment Trends 2007: South Asia faces growing gender unemployment gap & challenge of creating jobs.

The number of people unemployed worldwide remained at an historic high in 2006, despite strong global economic growth

Press release | BANGKOK | 25 January 2007

BANGKOK(ILO News) –The number of people unemployed worldwide remained at an historic high in 2006 despite strong global economic growth, the International Labour Office (ILO) said in its annual Global Employment Trends,released today.

In South Asia[1] the report reveals a growing gap between the situation of working women and men.  Only 36 per cent of working age women are actively engaged in the labour market, compared to 82.2 per cent of men. This is the second largest gender participation gap in the world, behind only the Middle East and North Africa - although there the gap has been narrowing much faster during the last decade.

Moreover, those women in South Asia who are in the labour force are more likely to be unemployed than their male counterparts, and the gap is widening. In the past decade, female unemployment rates increased from 4.9 per cent to 6.2 per cent while male unemployment rates moved from 4.2 to 4.9 per cent.  The overall unemployment rate in the region rose from 4.4 per cent in 1996 to 5.2 per cent in 2006.

 World wide, the 2006[2] unemployment rate is 6.3 per cent, a decrease of 0.1 per cent on 2005. Even though more people in the world are working than ever before the global number of people unemployed remains at an all time high, of 195.2 million.

In terms of economic growth the South Asian region’s overall GDP grew at a robust 7.9 per cent (although this is down from 8.2 per cent in 2005 and the rate is expected to fall again in 2007). But this growth rate is not creating enough employment to absorb the expanding labour force, which has increased by 2.1 per cent annually over the last decade.

This growing labour force remains South Asia ’s main challenge, the report says.

South Asia’s economies are different from the rest of Asia , the report says, because they are less integrated into global markets. They remain strongly dependent on agriculture and the sector still accounts for more than half total employment. By contrast, globally the services sector has overtaken agriculture for the first time, accounting for 40 per cent of total employment, while agriculture has fallen to 38.7 per cent. Industry accounted for 21.3 per cent.

South Asia has also seen a rise in the number of working poor—those working but living on less than the equivalent of US$ 2 per person, per day— from  458 million in 2001 to 498 million in 2006, although in percentage terms there has been a decline (from 89.1 to 87.2 per cent over the same period.  Globally the proportion also fell, from 52.2 to 47.4 per cent.

While the economic growth rates of recent years have brought considerable progress, the region still faces some significant labour market challenges:-

  • Low adult literacy rates. More education and training would contribute to economic growth.

  • The potential of young people is under-utilized and they are 2.8 times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

  • Low wages are often synonymous with poor working conditions, lack of social protection and benefits. This lack of decent working conditions impedes development.

Looking at the global picture, the report says that to cut unemployment, the link between growth and jobs must be reinforced. The creation of decent and productive jobs—not just any jobs— is a prerequisite for reducing unemployment and slashing the number of families working but still living in poverty. This in turn is a precondition for future development and economic growth.

Other general findings include:-             

  • In most regions unemployment rates did not change markedly between 2005 and 2006.

  • For the last decade economic growth has been reflected more in rising levels of productivity and less in growing employment. While world productivity increased by 26 per cent the global number of those in employment rose by only 16.6 per cent.

  • Unemployment hit young people (aged 15 to 24) the hardest, with 86.3 million young people representing 44 per cent of the world's total unemployed in 2006.

  • The employment gap between women and men persists. In 2006 only 48.9 per cent of women aged 15+ were working compared to 49.6 per cent in 1996. The comparable male employment-to-population ratios were 75.7 in 1996 and 74.0 in 2006.

  • In 2006 the service sector’s share of global employment overtook agriculture for the first time, increasing from 39.5 per cent to 40 per cent. Agriculture decreased from 39.7 per cent to 38.7 per cent. The industry sector accounted for 21.3 per cent of total employment.

“Every region has to face major labour market challenges”, says the report.  “Nowadays the widespread conviction is that decent work is the only sustainable way to reduce poverty, which is why the target of ‘full, productive and decent employment’ will be a new target within the Millennium Development Goals in 2007. Therefore it is now the time for governments as well as the international community to make sure that the favourable economic conditions in most parts of the world will be translated into decent job growth,” the report concludes.

[1]Afghanistan, Bangladesh , Bhutan , India , Maldives , Nepal , Pakistan , Sri Lanka

[2]2006 figures are preliminary estimates

For more information please contact:

Sophy Fisher
Regional Information Officer
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Tel: +662 288 2482

Krisdaporn Singhaseni
Information Officer – ILO Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0) 2288 1664

Neelam Agnihotri
ILO/SRO-New Delhi 
Tel. 91-11-24602101, 24602102