The Decent Work Imperative

NEW YORK – Over the past decade, the ranks of the unemployed have swollen to close to 190 million worldwide. That number captures only a fraction of the problem, since 80% of the global workforce is in the informal sector, without any unemployment benefits or other social protection. It is estimated that at least 43.5% of workers – 1.3 billion people – do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the $2-a-day poverty line. Recent World Bank poverty recalculations are expected to raise the number even higher.

Evidently, the global economy’s growth in recent decades – including the last half-decade when many developing countries did quite well – has not created enough good jobs. Nor have current economic and social policies compensated much for this shortfall.

Beyond the rising number of unemployed and underemployed, conditions for many of the employed have been deteriorating as well in most countries, especially for workers with little education and few skills. Globally, casual labor, outsourcing, and job contracting and subcontracting are becoming the norm, weakening entitlements for workers and creating more job insecurity.

According to a recent report by the United Nations, The Employment Imperative: Report on the World Social Situation , national policies aimed at counteracting these trends and lowering unemployment have largely failed. The report shows that in their desire to remain or become more competitive, governments and employers around the world have taken many steps to increase labor market flexibility. But this has merely contributed to greater economic insecurity and greater inequality, while failing to achieve either full or productive employment, as promised.