[DEBATE] : Rise in Jobless Poses Threat to Stability Worldwide
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Sun Feb 15 08:35:01 GMT 2009
After batting for Maggie Thatcher and Ron Reagan:
February 15, 2009
Rise in Jobless Poses Threat to Stability Worldwide
By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ
PARIS — From lawyers in Paris to factory workers in China and bodyguards
in Colombia, the ranks of the jobless are swelling rapidly across the globe.
Worldwide job losses from the recession that started in the United
States in December 2007 could hit a staggering 50 million by the end of
2009, according to the International Labor Organization, a United
Nations agency. The slowdown has already claimed 3.6 million American jobs.
High unemployment rates, especially among young workers, have led to
protests in countries as varied as Latvia, Chile, Greece, Bulgaria and
Iceland and contributed to strikes in Britain and France.
Last month, the government of Iceland, whose economy is expected to
contract 10 percent this year, collapsed and the prime minister moved up
national elections after weeks of protests by Icelanders angered by
soaring unemployment and rising prices.
Just last week, the new United States director of national intelligence,
Dennis C. Blair, told Congress that instability caused by the global
economic crisis had become the biggest security threat facing the United
States, outpacing terrorism.
"Nearly everybody has been caught by surprise at the speed in which
unemployment is increasing, and are groping for a response," said
Nicolas Véron, a fellow at Bruegel, a research center in Brussels that
focuses on Europe's role in the global economy.
In emerging economies like those in Eastern Europe, there are fears that
growing joblessness might encourage a move away from free-market,
pro-Western policies, while in developed countries unemployment could
bolster efforts to protect local industries at the expense of global trade.
Indeed, some European stimulus packages, as well as one passed Friday in
the United States, include protections for domestic companies,
increasing the likelihood of protectionist trade battles.
Protectionist measures were an intense matter of discussion as finance
ministers from the Group of 7 economies met this weekend in Rome.
While the number of jobs in the United States has been falling since the
end of 2007, the pace of layoffs in Europe, Asia and the developing
world has caught up only recently as companies that resisted deep cuts
in the past follow the lead of their American counterparts.
The International Monetary Fund expects that by the end of the year,
global economic growth will reach its lowest point since the Depression,
according to Charles Collyns, deputy director of the fund's research
department. The fund said that growth had come to "a virtual halt," with
developed economies expected to shrink by 2 percent in 2009.
"This is the worst we've had since 1929," said Laurent Wauquiez,
France's employment minister. "The thing that is new is that it is
global, and we are always talking about that. It is in every country,
and it makes the whole difference."
In Asia, any smugness at having escaped losses on American subprime debt
has been erased by growing despair over a plunge in sales among major
exporters. On Thursday, Pioneer of Japan said it would abandon the
flat-screen television business and cut 10,000 jobs worldwide in
response to sagging demand for consumer electronics.
Millions of migrant workers in mainland China are searching for jobs but
finding that factories are shutting down. Though not as large as the
disturbances in Greece or the Baltics, there have been dozens of
protests at individual factories in China and Indonesia where workers
were laid off with little or no notice.
The breadth of the problem is also becoming apparent in Taiwan, where
exports were down 42.9 percent last month, compared with a year ago, the
steepest plunge in Asia.
Chang Yung-yun, a 57-year-old restaurant kitchen worker, was laid off
when her employer closed in mid-November. Her son, an engineer, has been
put on unpaid vacation for weeks, a tactic that has become common in Taiwan.
"The greatest fear for our people is losing jobs," Taiwan's president,
Ma Ying-jeou, said in an interview.
Calls for protectionism have resonated among a fearful public. In
Britain, refinery and power plant employees walked off the job last
month to protest the use of workers from Italy and Portugal at a
construction project on the coast. Some held up signs highlighting Prime
Minister Gordon Brown's earlier promise of "British jobs for British
Unemployment in Britain is expected to rise to 9.5 percent by the middle
of 2010, from 6.3 percent now, according to Peter Dixon, an economist
with Commerzbank in London. Germany's jobless rate could rise to 10.5
percent from 7.8 percent, he added.
In France last week, President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to supply
low-interest loans of 3 billion euros, or $3.86 billion, each to PSA
Peugeot Citroën and Renault in exchange for an agreement not to lay off
To a greater extent than in past European downturns, highly trained
white-collar workers are pounding the pavement, too. Naomi
Runquist-Ohayon, a trademark lawyer, has been looking for work in Paris
since the beginning of the year, after losing her job in December.
"This is a new experience for me," said Ms. Runquist-Ohayon, 39, a
Swedish native who has lived in Paris and London and speaks fluent
English, French, Swedish and Italian. "In London, I never had to really
look. Recruiters or headhunters would call me or I would call them. It's
not so easy now."
Half a world away in Colombia, Jaime Galeano, 40, is in a similar
predicament. As a bodyguard in a country notorious for drug-related
violence and kidnappings, Mr. Galeano thought his profession was immune
until he lost his job last year.
"The conditions for finding a job are terrible," he said. What is more,
his age is now an impediment, with a ministry informing him that only
applicants under the age of 32 would be considered for new positions.
"After turning 35, a person is worth nothing," Mr. Galeano said.
Even India, whose startling rise to the forefront of the global economy
was portrayed in the hit movie "Slumdog Millionaire," has hit a wall.
About 500,000 people lost jobs between October and December 2008,
according to one recent analysis.
In New Delhi, Tarun Lamba lost the first real job he ever had about a
month ago, when he was laid off as a sales manager. Mr. Lamba, 24, said
he knew bad news was coming because it had been weeks since he had
written a truck loan. If he has to, he said, he could join his father's
business, selling clothes. But he hopes it will not come to that.
"The cycle has to keep running," he said. "We had a boom period one year
ago, now we are in a recession, and after some time the boom will come
Many newer workers, especially those in countries that moved from
communism to capitalism in the 1990s, have known only boom times since
then. For them, the shift is especially jarring, a main reason for the
violence that exploded recently in countries like Latvia, a former
"For the young generation, aged 20 to 24, this is the first time we've
had this," said Valdis Zatlers, Latvia's president.
The ripples from the slowdown in Europe, North America and Asia are also
being felt in Africa as migrant workers abroad lose their jobs and find
themselves unable to send money home.
Since his last temporary job as a metalworker in Paris ended three
months ago, Ignace Abdul has halted the monthly 200 euro payments he had
been sending to his wife and three children back in Senegal. "Between
2004 and 2008, I worked nonstop," Mr. Abdul, 30, said in an interview in
a bleak Paris unemployment office. "Right now, there is nothing."
Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher from Taipei, Taiwan; Heather
Timmons from New Delhi; Simon Romero and Jenny Carolina González from
Bogota, Colombia; and Maïa de la Baume from Paris.
More information about the Debate-list