Sizing Up Global Unemployment

Having a secure job that pays a reasonable wage is the primary way in which billions of the world’s inhabitants share in the benefits of a growing global economy. But at any point in time, many millions lack the jobs that provide this livelihood. We wonder: The global total of unemployed workers is about the same as which country’s population?

A. Turkey
B. Bangladesh
C. Brazil
D. United States

A. Turkey is not correct.

In 2013, 74.5 million young people (aged 15-24) were unemployed, according to data from the International Labor Organization (ILO). That is about the same as the entire population of Turkey (74.9 million), the world’s 18th most-populous country.

Globally, young people disproportionately bore the brunt of the recessions that followed the global financial crisis in 2008. As of 2013, the global rate of youth unemployment (13.1%) was almost three times higher than the unemployment rate for adults (4.6%).

One unfortunate aspect of high youth employment is that increasing numbers of new graduates are choosing to immigrate and leave their birth country behind. In developing countries, this “brain drain” can reduce the prospects for future economic growth.

The youth unemployment rates in North Africa and the Middle East are, at 29.4% and 27.2%, respectively, more than double the global rate. Lack of work opportunities for the young has been associated with radicalization and political instability.

B. Bangladesh is not correct.

As of 2013, there were about 157.1 million unemployed workers throughout the world’s developing nations. That is roughly the same as the population of Bangladesh (156.6 million), the world’s eighth-most populous country.

East Asia has the largest number of unemployed workers of any geographic region. At 39.4 million, the region accounts for one in every four jobless people throughout the developing world. East Asia is followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (27.2 million unemployed) and South Asia (26 million).

However, East Asia’s unemployment rate — the number of unemployed divided by the total labor force — is quite low, at 4.5%. By comparison, Sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployment rate is 7.6%.

North Africa and the Middle East have the highest regional unemployment rates in the developing world, at 12.2% and 10.9%, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, these regions have been characterized by a high degree of political instability in recent years.

C. Brazil is correct.

The total number of jobless workers in 2013 was 201.8 million — about the same number of people that live in Brazil (200 million), the fifth most-populous nation in the world.

The total number of jobless include 157.1 million unemployed people in developing countries and 44.7 million in the world’s advanced economies, including the United States, Europe and Japan. The number of unemployed workers in the advanced economies is almost exactly the same as the population of Kenya (44.4 million).

While the advanced economies account for only 22% of global joblessness, they account for only about 15% of the world population. Thus, these countries have a much greater share of unemployment globally than their share of population would suggest.

Since 2007, the year before the financial crisis precipitated a global economic slump, advanced-country unemployment stood at 29.4 million. The number of jobless in these countries rose by 52% as of 2013.

By comparison, the number of jobless in the developing countries (140.6 million in 2007) increased by just 12%.

D. United States is not correct.

In 2013, there were an estimated 375 million workers — or almost 20% more than the entire population of the United States (316 million) — who earned less than $1.25 per day (measured in terms of purchasing power parity).

These workers — who account for 12% of global employment — subsist on wages that do not even exceed the World Bank’s threshold for absolute poverty. In other words, the wages these workers earn are not enough to allow them and their families to escape the scourge of extreme poverty.

Another 464 million workers — a group that is 50% larger than the U.S. population — earn more than $1.25, but less than $2 a day. These workers are at constant risk of falling back into extreme poverty, should they lose employment for any reason.

Together, the 839 million workers who earn less than $2 a day is even larger than the combined population of the 28-country European Union (507 million) and the United States.

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