Latin America and the Caribbean

Unemployment up for 3rd consecutive year, expected to drop in 2018

ILO’s annual Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean shows a continued rise in unemployment. The region presented mixed challenges, with signs of improvement in some areas and indications of deterioration in others.

News | 18 December 2017
© Miguel Pinheiro / CIFOR
LIMA (ILO News) – Unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean increased for the third consecutive year, affecting more than 26 million people in 2017, but labour markets in the region are expected to improve in 2018.

“The labour market in the region appears to be going through a change of cycle after a period of generalized deterioration of labour and social indicators, but improvements will depend on achieving greater economic growth”, warned the ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs.

The Labour Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean 2017 highlighted a mixed performance of the main labour market variables. The average performance of those indicators rose from 7.9 per cent in 2016 to 8.4 per cent at the end of 2017. The number of people seeking but failing to find work rose by two million to 26.4 million.

The average was strongly influenced by the situation in Brazil, which is home to almost 40 per cent of the region’s workforce and where the rate of unemployment stood at around 13.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2017.

An upturn is expected in 2018, when the unemployment rate could drop for the first time in three years, to 8.1 per cent.

“The main change in this Labour Overview is that, generally speaking, there is a glimpse of the end of the widespread deterioration of the labour markets registered over the last two years and the start of an acceleration in the expected growth in 2018 which should materialize, and trigger a new phase of improvement”, said Salazar.

But he pointed out that unemployment is merely the most visible part of the labour market. “There are other dimensions of employment which must be taken into account in the countries of the region, such as persistent gender inequality, the lack of employment for youth and issues associated with the quality of employment which contribute to perpetuating informality”, he underscored.

For the first time in years, the participation of women in the labour market exceeded 50 per cent, at 50.2 per cent. But the gender gap persists. Participation rates and employment rates are 20 percentage points lower for women than they are for men. The unemployment rate for women, at 10.4 per cent in the third quarter, remains 1.4 times higher than it is men.

The average rate of youth unemployment rose from 18.9 per cent to 19.5 per cent in 2017, which means that one in every five youths in the workforce cannot access work. It is estimated that this situation affects some 10 million youths.

Salazar warned that forecast economic growth of 1.2 per cent to 2 per cent is “insufficient to speedily reduce poverty, and to satisfy and finance the demands of the middle classes and to have really transformative impacts on the social and labour market indicators.” He said countries in the region needed to achieve 5 to 6 per cent economic growth, and that “this will only be achieved by bridging the gaps in productivity and the lack of productive development and diversification, as well as in education and vocational training and infrastructure”.

“Only in this way can we advance more sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth with more and better jobs”, Salazar said.

For further information please contact:

Gennike Mayers | mayersg@ilo.org | +1 (868) 623 7178/ 7704 ext 412