The number of unemployed in the world is finally expected to fall in 2023

As every year, the International Labour Organization publishes its report on employment. For the first time since the pandemic, unemployment is returning to pre-Covid-19 levels: the ILO estimates that there will be 191 million unemployed in 2023, one million fewer than last year. But this figure hides very different realities depending on the region and country.

According to the latest ILO estimates dated 31 May 2023, the global unemployment rate is expected to fall by 0.1 percentage point to 5.3%. © Getty Images

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In 2023, global unemployment is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels. The number of unemployed people is expected to rise from 192 million in 2022 to 191 million in 2023, while the ILO was still counting on three million more unemployed in mid-January. That's the headline.

But if we stop there, it is because we have not understood anything. Certainly, the post-Covid recovery has been particularly rapid in rich countries, in Western Europe for example, but elsewhere, in Africa and Arab countries in particular, unemployment – as calculated by the ILO – is still much higher in 2023 than it was in 2019.

Many developing countries lagging far behind

North Africa remains the hardest hit region: more than 11% unemployment again this year. Firstly because the consequences of Covid-19 are still being felt, particularly on tourism, and then in the meantime, the war in Ukraine, tensions on the energy and food markets have led to global inflation. And inflation is not good for the labour market. Especially since it limits the resources and room for manoeuvre of States, especially the most indebted.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the unemployment rate is 6.3% compared to 5.7% in 2022 and in the Arab States, 9.3% in 2023 compared to 8.7% in 2022. These developing countries "already host the world's most vulnerable people, face a particularly brutal combination of challenges: high inflation, rising interest rates and an increased risk of debt difficulties," said Mia Seppo, Assistant Director-General for Employment and Social Protection at the ILO.

Inequalities in the world

Conversely, "other regions of the world such as Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern, Western and Southern Europe as well as Central and Western Asia have managed to bring their (unemployment) rates down well below pre-crisis levels," the ILO observes. But in Latin America, "the recovery of employment has often been fuelled by the growth of the informal economy," and thus the creation of lower-quality jobs, warns Sangheon Lee, director of the ILO's Employment Policy Department.

Countries whose unemployment rate has not fallen to 2019 levels, and in particular the most indebted, "urgently need support (...) and multilateral coordination to address persistent employment deficits and growing inequalities," the ILO said. In an economy in crisis, public action, the establishment of a social safety net: all this contributes to development and therefore to reducing unemployment, she insists.

Read the ILO report

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