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Unemployment rates are falling—but what about youth and women?

Tamar Manuelyan Atinc's picture

Persistently high unemployment rates continue to trouble policymakers in developed and developing countries alike—but the recent Job Trends report brings some good news. After successive years of disappointing labor market performance, several countries in Eastern Europe may finally be turning the corner. These countries suffered most during the financial crisis, so the recovery in job creation is much needed to boost family incomes. In the rest of the developing world, the headlines are positive even while we see some moderation in employment and wage growth in Latin America and East Asia.

I have two concerns at this stage. I suspect most observers of the world economy share my first concern that the incipient recovery is fragile, given the continuing economic turmoil in Europe. But I am also concerned with what’s happening with specific groups, such as youth and women. I have a hunch that the recovery is and will be uneven with youth, women and the less skilled having a harder time finding jobs—even if aggregate numbers show steady gains. The crisis hit young workers hard, particularly young men, and countries are dealing with long-term consequences. Unfortunately, few countries know what’s happening with groups of workers because the data are not collected routinely or if they are, the results are available only with a relatively long lag time.

Where recent data are available, the story is mixed. Although youth unemployment remains alarmingly high at 20-30 percent, youth have fared reasonably well in Lithuania, Brazil and Turkey. In Lithuania, one of the countries most affected by the 2008 crisis, the latest data from the third quarter of 2011 show youth employment expanding 5 percent over its level the previous year, above the economy-wide average of 2 percent. In Brazil and Turkey, too, youth employment accelerated in the past year, and unemployment rates for 15- to 17-year-old Brazilians fell from 26 percent to 19 percent.

Women, on the other hand, are lagging behind men in taking advantage of employment opportunities, and even though male workers were in many cases more affected by the crisis, this is a cause for concern. In Turkey, female employment grew only slightly in the last year, and at a lower rate than men’s employment. Job opportunities for women need to grow at a much faster rate to put a dent in the country’s large gender gap in labor force participation rates. Despite Lithuania’s strong recovery, its labor market has not added many jobs for women, especially compared to the number of men now back to work. This pattern continues in Brazil, where employment growth also slowed far more for women than for men. Of the six countries that provided recent data, employment growth for women trailed that of men in all but one.

Our latest Jobs Trends report gives us some good news at the aggregate level but we cannot tell how this translates into gains for vulnerable people and poor families unless we have more information on who is getting the jobs. Countries should regularly survey and monitor what’s happening with youth and women and track the skills profile of the unemployed. Armed with this information, countries may be able to implement corrective active labor programs that help improve opportunities for the most vulnerable.


Job Trends report

Blog: Are Emerging Markets Leading the Way in Job Creation?

Jobs and the World Bank

2013 World Development Report on Jobs

Working Paper: How Did the Great Recession Affect Different Types of Workers? Evidence from 17 Middle-Income Countries