By Barbara Shailor, former Special Representative for International Labor Affairs at the Department of State and Senior Advisor to Blue Star Strategies. 

The International Labor Organization–the United Nations Specialized Agency designated to monitor global trends in employment–has just released "Global Employment Trends 2014: The risk of a jobless recovery," which raises new concerns about joblessness, particularly among the young. The ILO reports that in 2013, more than 202 million jobseekers were unemployed across the world, an increase of 5 million since 2012. The global jobs gap since the economic collapse in 2008 now totals about 62 million. The ILO projects that unemployment and the jobs gap will continue to worsen through 2018.


Nearly 75 million young people–ages 15-24 –are unemployed, again an increase over 2012. The youth unemployment rate at 13.1% is over three times that of adults, a historic discrepancy. In some countries, one out of every four young people is neither employed nor in education or training. Several countries now risk a lost generation, with calamitous implications.

Not surprisingly, the average duration of unemployment has lengthened; with long-term unemployed double that of pre-crisis rates. Even in the U.S., which has one of the more promising job pictures, 40% of all jobseekers suffer long-term unemployment.

Even more striking is the number of workers trapped in vulnerable employment (defined as self-employed or work by contributing family members) or in the informal economy. In Central America, 70% or more workers labor in the informal economy. In South Asia and Southeast Asia, the percentage rises to 90 %.

Given this, it is not surprising that a staggering 839 million workers–or more than one fourth of the global workforce–survive on less than $2.00 a day. This represents progress from the beginning of the century, due largely to growth in China and India.

 As is the case with most official tripartite multilateral reports, the ILO document is understated, factual and terse. It concludes that the global economy suffers from insufficient aggregate demand, leading to widespread job shortages. It warns that austerity–what it terms “fiscal consolidation”–is a drag on demand and growth. It urges that governments consider rebalancing their fiscal policies and take action to empower workers.

The dry statistics and charts of the ILO report should not mislead. This is, in a sense, a cry for action. Unemployment–particularly among the young–is too high. Joblessness is destructive of individuals, of families, of communities, and ultimately of nations. The ILO projects that the crisis will continue to get worse without a marked change of course. We see its expressions already in upheaval in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe that experience crippling unemployment rates among the young.

Across the world, economic ministers seek credit for the recovery of their economies.

But there is no such thing as a jobless recovery. If the economy is not working for working people, it simply is not working.