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Unemployment Rates Stabilising at High Levels, ILO Data Shows Perceptible Downward Trend in Some Countries

ILO/96/3

Press release | 05 March 1996

ILO/96/3

GENEVA (ILO News) - Official unemployment figures are stabilising at high rates or improving very slowly in a number of countries, according to the ILO's latest Supplement of the Bulletin of Labour Statistics Endnote1. A strong exception to the generally lacklustre labour-market trends prevails in a small number of South- and South-East Asian countries and territories (notably Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and Singapore), where unemployment remains consistently low, despite significant percentage increases for the region.

In most Western European countries, general rates of joblessness remained steady or came down slightly between 1994-95, however double-digit unemployment continues to prevail across most of the continent.

By January 1996, when newest data were available, some of the gains had been lost, with unemployment increasing to 9 per cent in Austria, 12 per cent in Germany and 12 per cent in France.

Over the year 1994-95, joblessness rose slightly in Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal and Sweden (see Table). It decreased from high levels in Finland, Ireland, Italy and Spain. In Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, where unemployment is comparatively low, rates moved downward. The Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom equally experienced a downward trend.

Among the Central European transition economies, the Czech Republic had the lowest rate of registered unemployment, 3.0 per cent in September, 1995, down from 3.2 year on year. Registered unemployment rates in Hungary came down from 11.4 to 10.3 over the same period. Poland's unemployment rates remained in double digits (almost 17 per cent throughout most of 1994), but had eased to around 16 per cent by the end of that year and was down to 14.9 per cent by the end of 1995.

ILO statisticians caution that unemployment figures, particularly in the transition and developing economies, fail to take account of labour hoarding and various forms of hidden unemployment (for example unpaid and long-term maternity leave) and underemployment, which in some cases pose even greater problems than unemployment.

In industrialised countries training and retraining programmes directed toward the unemployed can often mask the true extent of joblessness. In nearly all the industrialised countries and territories cited, reductions in male unemployment accounted for the bulk of the improvements. Women's unemployment tended to either stagnate or increase.

Among the larger industrialised economies, Japan continues to show the lowest overall unemployment, but the rate in December 1995 had edged up to 3.2 per cent from 1994's 2.7 per cent. Over the same period, the US unemployment rate went from 5.1 per cent in December 1994, up to 5.3 one year later, with a jump to 5.8 per cent by January 1996. Canada, which had experienced double-digit unemployment in early 1994, saw rates drop to 9.2 per cent by December 1995.

In Hong Kong, the unemployment rate remained low but crept upward, from 1.6 to 2.9 per cent of the workforce in the second quarters from 1994 to 1995. Singapore's unemployment levels increased slightly from very low levels.

Israel's unemployment came down from 8.1 to 6.5 per cent (3rd quarter of 1994-95). In the Republic of Korea, unemployment in 1994-95 remained low at around 2 per cent, while the Philippines dropped 1 percentage point (9.8 to 8.8).

India's number of registered unemployed rose by about one-half a million (from 36.8 in August 1994 to 37.2 in August 1995). Malaysia recorded declines from already low levels of unemployment.

Australia's unemployment rate eased to 8.5 per cent in December 1995, continuing a downward 1994 trend which saw the rate dip below double digits. Levels of unemployment continued to come down in New Zealand, with an official unemployment rate going from 7.7 to 6.0 per cent from 1994 to 1995 (2nd quarter).

In Latin America, unemployment increased in Brazil (from 4.5 to 5.1 per cent in the 3rd quarter of 1994-95) and Colombia (7.6 to 8.7 per cent) and decreased slightly in Chile (moving from 6.7 to 5.7 per cent).

The paucity of labour-market data in Africa makes it difficult to quantify unemployment, but in the few cases where numbers exist, they show rising levels. Underemployment and unemployment are acute across Africa.

The ILO's Bulletin of Labour Statistics is published quarterly; supplements to the bulletin are published 4 times in the interim months. In addition to labour force data, the bulletin also provides statistics on wages, hours of work and consumer prices.

Unemployment rates 1994-1995: selected countries

Country

Month/1994

Percentage

Month/1995

Percentage

Australia

December

9.0

December

8.5

Austria

December

8.5

January 1996

9.0

Belgium

December

14.1

December

14.5

Brazil

October

4.5

October

5.1

Canada

December

9.3

December

9.2

Chile

3rd Quarter

6.7

3rd Quarter

5.7

Colombia

September

7.6

September

8.7

Czech Republic

September

3.2

September

3.0

Denmark

December

10.8

December

8.9

Finland

December

17.4

December

17.0

France

November

12.3

November

11.7

Germany

January 1995

11.1

January 1996

12.0

Hong Kong

2nd Quarter

1.6

2nd Quarter

2.9

Hungary

October

11.4

October

10.3

Iceland

December

5.5

December

4.9

Ireland

November

14.6

December

13.1

Israel

3rd Quarter

8.1

3rd Quarter

6.5

Italy

November

12.0

November

11.5

Japan

December

2.7

December

3.2

Korea, Republic of

December

2.1

December

1.8

Luxembourg

December

3.0

December

3.2

Netherlands

October

7.6

October

7.0

New Zealand

2nd Quarter

7.7

2nd Quarter

6.0

Norway

December

4.6

December

4.1

Philippines

3rd Quarter

9.8

3rd Quarter

8.8

Poland

December

16.0

December

14.9

Portugal

3rd Quarter

6.8

3rd Quarter

6.9

Spain

3rd Quarter

23.9

3rd Quarter

22.7

Switzerland

January 1995

4.6

January 1996

4.5

Sweden

December

7.4

December

7.8

United Kingdom

November

8.7

November

7.8

United States

December

5.1

December

5.3

Sources: Employment Office or Labour Force Sample Survey Unemployment Statistics, International Labour Office, Geneva.

Endnote1

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*/ Supplement of the Bulletin of Labour Statistics, 1995-4, ISSN 0378-5505. International Labour Office, Geneva.