x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Spectre of rise in jobless haunts world economies

After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression many governments have implemented harsh spending cuts, but providing jobs for their battered workforces will be harder to achieve.

France’s largest oil port near Marseille.
France’s largest oil port near Marseille.

The banking collapse and credit crunch reverberated around the world. It was followed by stimulus packages and bailout plans, the start of a currency war and austerity measures.

But the biggest crisis is about to begin: job cuts.

Even the most optimistic of analysts warn high unemployment could last five years, perhaps more if governments take the wrong decisions. The phoney war is over.

It is probably no surprise that one of the recipient's of this year's Nobel Prize went to Christopher Pissarides as the Cypriot-born Briton specialises in unemployment.

He has already warned Britain's deep spending cuts, which could put more than half a million people on the streets, are "unnecessary" and "unjustified".

"Unemployment is high and job vacancies few," Mr Pissarides told a British newspaper.

"By taking the action that the chancellor [of the exchequer, George Osborne] outlined in his statement, this situation might well become worse."

He said Mr Osborne could have outlined a clear deficit-reduction plan over the next five years, postponing more of the cuts, until the recovery became less fragile. "The sovereign risk would have been minimal."

The UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) agrees, warning governments against withdrawing fiscal stimulus measures while the recovery remains weak.

In a grim report, it said employment would not recover to pre-crisis levels for another five years, particularly if current policies are pursued.

The agency said it was increasing by two years its previous assessment of the time it would take to create the 22 million jobs needed to bring levels back to where they were before the financial crisis.

But that does not take into account the effect of Britain's new austerity plans and similar policies being pursued in other parts of Europe and the world.

In Spain last month, demonstrators lined the Puerta del Sol in Madrid as unions called for a general strike to combat austerity measures. In Greece there have been riots and protests for months.

Raymond Torres, the lead author of the ILO document "World of Work Report 2010: From one Crisis to the Next?", said job losses since the financial turmoil started amount to between 30 million and 35 million.

The ILO has forecast global unemployment this year of 213 million, a rate of 6.5 per cent.

In 35 countries for which data exists, almost 40 per cent of jobseekers have been out of work for more than a year, increasing the risk of demoralisation and mental health problems.

Young people have been the hardest hit, along with the over 60s.

The report said social unrest related to the crisis had been reported in at least 25 countries worldwide.

In more than 75 per cent of the 82 countries with available information, the perception of the quality of life had declined between 2006 and last year.

The US is feeling particularly unnerved by the rising tide of unemployment and it has become one of the main issues in next month's mid-term elections.

According to Steven Tobin, an economist at the ILO, almost 7 million jobs will need to be created to bring the country's workforce back to pre-crisis levels. If not, the country is going to have to get used to an unemployment rate closer to 10 per cent, a figure that many European countries have become accustomed to living with.

For some, such as Ireland, Spain and Greece, 10 per cent is something to dream of.

In the UAE, unemployment is rare because as soon as somebody loses their job they lose their visas, and are given 30 days to leave.

"Anecdotally I have heard that some of the people who left Dubai in 2009 are now returning, although I have no data to support this," says Tim Fox, the chief economist at Emirates NBD.

"The pressure on labour markets in developed countries means that many workers will be looking for an escape valve with some probably looking to the Gulf, among other fast-growing regions, as a possible destination."

As for emerging markets, nobody would even want to contemplate what might happen in China, India or Brazil if people started losing their jobs on a major scale.

rwright@thenational.ae