Covid variants have led to worse global unemployment, says ILO

The outlook for jobs globally this year has worsened markedly since last spring as new variants of the Covid-19 virus have slowed growth and restricted hiring, according to a report from the International Labour Organisation.

In its latest assessment of the state of the labour market, the Geneva-based ILO said unemployment would remain above 2019 levels until at least 2023 and the damage caused by the pandemic would take years to repair.

The ILO said its latest estimates showed there would be the equivalent of 52m fewer jobs globally in 2022 than in the last quarter of 2019, the period immediately before the pandemic struck. That represents a doubling from the 26m in the organisation’s last labour market update in May 2021.

According to the report, global unemployment will be 207m, a smaller drop from the 214m in 2021 than previously expected and well above the 186m reported in 2019. The ILO said the impact of the pandemic on employment was “significantly” greater than the raw figures suggested, because many people had left the labour force entirely. The global labour force participation rate, the number of people in work or seeking employment, was forecast to be 59.3% in 2022 – 1.2 percentage points below that of 2019, it added.

The ILO director-general, Guy Ryder, said: “Two years into this crisis, the outlook remains fragile and the path to recovery is slow and uncertain.

“We are already seeing potentially lasting damage to labour markets, along with concerning increases in poverty and inequality. Many workers are being required to shift to new types of work – for example in response to the prolonged slump in international travel and tourism.

“There can be no real recovery from this pandemic without a broad-based labour market recovery. And to be sustainable, this recovery must be based on the principles of decent work – including health and safety, equity, social protection and social dialogue.”

The ILO said the Delta and Omicron variants had been partly responsible for the downgrades to its 2022 forecasts, noting there was significant uncertainty about the future course of the pandemic.

Labour market recovery was fastest in high-income countries, where a higher proportion of populations have been vaccinated. The ILO said the most developed nations accounted for about half of the global decline in unemployment between 2020 and 2022 while constituting only about a fifth of the global labour force. Lower-middle-income countries had fared the worst during the pandemic.

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