February 27, 2024

I.H.T. Special Report: Global Agenda: To Limit Turmoil, Focus Turns to Fighting Joblessness

That is why, when policy makers and economists meet in Washington this week for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, unemployment will be prominent on the agenda.

After all, the ultimate measure of economic success is not whether the stock or bond markets go up — though it sometimes seems that way — but rather whether a society can provide jobs for its citizens. A society that fails will see other problems multiply in the form of political unrest, sinking tax revenue and soaring debt.

Greece, which is threatening to undermine the global financial system, is a prime example. An underlying cause of its debt problem is the country’s dysfunctional economy and an ossified job market that keeps out newcomers and outsiders.

“The Greek labor market clearly plays a huge role,” said Jacob Funk Kierkegaard, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “Greece is totally overregulated and systemically corrupt. Everybody is a protected group. You clearly need to get rid of that.”

Likewise, it is no accident that the countries in the Middle East and North Africa where political unrest has flared have some of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, with young people nearly four times as likely to be jobless as adults, according to the International Labor Organization in Geneva. An unusually high number of the unemployed are well educated.

The long-term success of uprisings that toppled strongmen in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya will probably depend in large part on whether the new governments can provide jobs for the frustrated young people who propelled regime change.

For that reason, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is financed by 61 countries, including the United States, has put a priority on creating jobs as it expands its involvement to North Africa after the Arab Spring.

“The No. 1 focus is going to be on small and medium-size enterprises and employment, creating new jobs and meaningful jobs,” said Erik Berglof, chief economist of the European Bank.

But it is the industrialized countries, not the poor nations, that have the biggest growth in unemployment. Developed countries account for 15 percent of the world’s labor force but more than half the number of newly jobless since 2007, according to the International Labor Organization.

Unemployment, said Prakash Loungani, an adviser in the research department of the I.M.F. in Washington, “is an advanced-country problem.”

This does not mean that workers in the United States or Europe are going to start migrating to emerging markets for jobs. Working people in emerging countries are often extremely poor. Nearly 40 percent, or 1.2 billion people, earn less than $2 a day.

It is the prospect of a better job that drives huge numbers of poor people to risk their lives in treks to Europe or the United States, where the influx of immigrants can raise political tensions.

While the number of people migrating in search of work has declined during the global downturn, developed countries “remain attractive,” said Thomas Liebig, who studies migration at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. “The gap is still pretty large.”

High growth rates mean that employment in emerging countries is at least going in the right direction. That is not true of many developed economies. Just ask President Obama, whose re-election may depend on whether the United States unemployment rate starts to go down.

Few large countries have had better success than Germany. Unemployment has plunged to 6.2 percent from a peak of 10.6 percent in 2005. One reason is a series of policies that loosened job protections and put more pressure on unemployed people to find work.

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b78373fadef66ef59939e43c541eb843

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