Davos WEF
Davos WEF

Nearly half a billion people globally struggle to work enough, says UN labor agency

Key Points
  • 188 million people are unemployed globally and 165 million adults unable to get enough paid work.
  • Another 120 million people had given up actively searching for work.
  • More than three in five workers are in informal employment. 
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More than 470 million people worldwide are working fewer paid hours than they would like to or lack access to paid work, according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The United Nations agency found that in addition to the 188 million people unemployed globally, there were a further 165 million adults unable to get enough paid work.

Along with another 120 million people who had given up actively searching for work or had less adequate access to jobs, this totaled close to half a billion people struggling to earn a sufficient living.

This was the finding of ILO's "World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2020" report, which also predicated unemployment to increase by around 2.5 million in 2020.

However, after nine years in decline, the rate of global unemployment remained unchanged in 2019, at 5.4%, and is expected to stay the same for the next two years, due to fluctuations in the population seeking work.

Wages remaining 'sticky' despite tighter labor markets, ILO chief says

But Guy Ryder, ILO director-general, told CNBC's Squawk Box that making any prediction on unemployment was "somewhat hazardous," given the different uncertainties facing the labor market.

"Transitional change, through technologies … climate change action and demographics," were all factors creating this uncertainty, he said.

Ryder explained that this tighter labor market, or low unemployment, and underemployment coincided because there had been "a lot of people have been crowded into short time contracts."

Of the global workforce, 61% are in informal employment, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, 630 million people, equivalent to one in five of the global workforce, are working but still live in poverty – defined as those earning less than $3.20 per day on a purchasing power parity basis.

Similarly, he said the number of self-employed people was on the rise but the "dividend," or income advantage, this group had over the salaried workers was declining.

He believed that this meant some people were being squeezed into self-employment status as a sort of "survival mechanism" in the labor market.

"It's not the sort of image one might have of self-employment as a positive entrepreneurial choice," Ryder added.

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