UN Warns of Employment Divide: Low-Income Countries in Africa and Middle East Lagging Behind Global Recovery
The United Nations labor agency has cautioned that low-income countries in Africa and the Middle East are not benefiting from the global recovery of unemployment rates to pre-pandemic levels. According to a report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Wednesday, global unemployment is expected to decrease to 5.3 percent, representing 191 million people, in 2023. However, this recovery is largely concentrated in high-income countries that have demonstrated resilience to economic shocks, leaving many low-income nations with persistently high unemployment rates.
The ILO highlighted that unemployment in North Africa and the Arab states is projected to be 11.2 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively, in 2023, remaining above pre-pandemic levels. In contrast, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Central and Western Asia have successfully reduced their unemployment rates to levels seen before the crisis.
This growing employment divide coincides with a global economic growth projection of just 2.8 percent in 2023, down from 3.4 percent in 2022. The ILO emphasized that these figures do not fully capture the extent of the unemployment crisis in low-income countries. When considering individuals who are willing to work but lack employment opportunities, the “jobs gap” becomes even more severe.
The ILO estimates that the global jobs gap in 2023 will amount to 11.7 percent, roughly 453 million people, with low-income countries facing a gap of 21.5 percent compared to 8.2 percent in high-income countries.
The labor agency attributes this divide to a combination of factors, including the lingering effects of the pandemic and ongoing conflicts such as those in Ukraine and Syria. These crises have resulted in high inflation, elevated interest rates, and currency depreciation. Interest rates above 10 percent in 37 countries have increased borrowing costs and hindered debt repayment, which soared during the pandemic. Approximately 60 percent of countries now face “debt distress or high risk of debt distress,” according to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Gilbert F Houngbo, Director-General of the ILO, emphasized the urgent need to develop robust social safety nets capable of withstanding macroeconomic shocks. He stated that investing in people through job creation and social protection is essential to narrowing the gap between wealthy and impoverished nations and individuals. The report serves as a stark reminder of the widening global inequalities that must be addressed.