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The jobs crisis and beyond

One idea the world has not tried

Comment from Davos by ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, published on

Comment | Davos | 24 January 2013
ILO Director-general Guy Ryder at the Open forum interactive session 'Unemployed or Unemployable?'
DAVOS, Switzerland – We have spent the past five years trying to jumpstart the global economy. After a promising start, we now seem to be heading in the wrong direction.

The crisis continues to bite in advanced countries, emerging and developing economies are slowing down, and more economic gloom looms on the horizon.

Some 200 million people worldwide are out of a job. According to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends 2013, that number is rising and could reach 210 million by 2017.

Young people are particularly hard hit. Close to 75 million 15-24 year olds are unemployed. Many of them experience long spells of unemployment right from the start, or leave the labour market altogether, often losing their professional and social skills and missing out on on-the-job experience.

Ask any of these young women and men what the key to a decent life is and nine out of ten times the answer will be: a decent job. Ask anyone else and the answer will most likely be the same.

There is one idea we have not tried: making job creation our number one priority. We have talked about it, but haven’t really acted on it. It’s a simple idea that could promote a sustainable recovery from the crisis now, and lead to poverty eradication in the future.

This is particularly timely as we start debating the post-2015 development agenda.

Originally, the 2015 U.N. Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs) did not mention jobs, but “full and productive employment and decent work for all” was eventually added as one of the targets to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.

Almost 190 nations committed to those goals in 2000. Since then, a confluence of crises – financial, food, fuel and environmental – has caused most countries to move further away from full employment, while progress in eradicating poverty has been uncertain and uneven.

We need about 45-50 million new jobs annually over the next ten years just to keep up with demographics and reduce unemployment. Not just jobs, but jobs that pay enough to make a decent living. And when jobs go missing, as we’ve repeatedly seen during this crisis, basic social protection can make the difference between life and death for the most vulnerable.

The debate on what will follow the MDGs is still in its early stages. We must grab this opportunity to make sure job creation is formally recognized as one of the goals of the post-2015 development agenda.

This would help mobilise international development assistance. Low-income countries need support for the investments in infrastructure that create jobs in the short-run and in skills and innovation that would raise workers’ productivity and income over the medium term.

On a wider level, work connects people with their society and the economy. Having a safe, productive and fairly remunerated job is key for people to gain self-esteem and a sense of belonging to a community.

By contrast, when people have no jobs or are forced to work in poverty, there is less growth, less security and less human and economic development. Add to this the growing income and social inequalities within and across countries, and what you get is a recipe for economic, political and social instability.

A shift to inclusive and sustainable development will not be possible if millions of people are denied the opportunity to earn their living in conditions of equity and dignity.

That is why our efforts to achieve inclusive, equitable and sustainable development must be anchored in decent jobs. And why it’s time to redouble them now.