The Plague of Unemployment
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN ITALY
It is an emergency in several developed countries—but it also worries developing nations. It has struck where it once seemed nonexistent. It affects hundreds of millions of people—many of whom are mothers and fathers. For two thirds of Italians, it is “threat number one.” It creates new social illnesses. In part, it is at the root of the problems of many young people who become involved in drugs. It disturbs the sleep of millions, and for millions of others, it could be just around the corner . . .
“UNEMPLOYMENT is probably the most widely feared phenomenon of our times,” affirms the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “The extent and consequences of this phenomenon are known,” writes the Commission of European Communities, but “dealing with it is arduous.” It is “a specter,” says one expert, that is “returning to haunt the streets of the Old Continent.” In the European Union (EU), the unemployed now number about 20 million, and in October 1994, in Italy alone they officially numbered 2,726,000. As far as European Union commissioner Padraig Flynn is concerned, “tackling unemployment is the most important social and economic challenge we face.” If you are unemployed or in danger of losing your job, you know the fear it causes.
But unemployment is not just a European problem. It afflicts all American countries. It does not spare Africa, Asia, or Oceania. Eastern European nations have been feeling the pinch in recent years. True, it does not strike in the same way everywhere. But according to some economists, unemployment rates in Europe and North America will long remain much higher than in previous decades.* And the situation is “worsened by the increase of underemployment and by a general deterioration in the quality of jobs available,” points out economist Renato Brunetta.
An Implacable March
Unemployment has hit all sectors of the economy one by one: first agriculture, with its increased mechanization, which puts people out of work; then industry, which has been affected by the energy crises from the 1970’s on; and now, the service sector—commerce, education—a sector previously considered unassailable. Twenty years ago an unemployment rate in excess of 2 or 3 percent would have caused great alarm. Today an industrialized nation is doing well if unemployment is kept below 5 or 6 percent, and many developed nations have much higher rates.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), an unemployed person is one who is without work, is prepared to work, and is actively looking for work. But what about a person who does not have a permanent full-time job or one who manages to work just a few hours a week? Part-time work is considered differently from one country to another. In certain nations some who in reality are unemployed are officially counted as employed. Ill-defined situations between employment and unemployment make it difficult to determine who really is unemployed, and for this reason statistics describe only part of the reality. “Even the official number of 35 million unemployed [in OECD countries] does not reflect the full extent of joblessness,” says one European study.
The High Price of Unemployment
But the numbers do not tell the whole story. “The economic and social costs of unemployment are enormous,” says the Commission of European Communities, and they result “not only from the direct expense of welfare payments for the unemployed but also from loss in terms of fiscal revenue to which the unemployed would contribute were they active.” And unemployment benefits are becoming increasingly burdensome not only for governments but also for the employed, who are subjected to increased taxes.
Unemployment is not just a matter of facts and figures. Individual dramas are the result, for this plague strikes people—men, women, and youths of every social class. Combined with all the other problems of these “last days,” unemployment can prove to be a tremendous burden. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Revelation 6:5, 6) Especially if hit by “long-term unemployment,” all else being equal, the person who has been out of work for a long time will find it even more difficult to land a job. Sadly, some may never be employed again.*
Psychologists find that among today’s unemployed, psychiatric and psychological problems are increasing, as well as emotional instability, frustration, progressive apathy, and loss of self-respect. When a person with children to care for loses a job, it is a terrible personal tragedy. The world has collapsed around them. Security has evaporated. Today, in fact, some experts note the emergence of an “anticipatory anxiety” related to the possibility of losing one’s job. This anxiety can seriously affect family relations and can have even more tragic results, as recent suicides of unemployed persons may indicate. Furthermore, the difficulty of breaking into the labor market is among the probable causes of violence and social alienation of young people.
‘Prisoners of a Perverse System’
Awake! has interviewed a number of people who have lost their jobs. Fifty-year-old Armando said that for him it meant “seeing the efforts of 30 years’ work frustrated, having to start over,” and feeling “like a prisoner of a perverse system.” Francesco ‘saw the world collapse on top of him.’ Stefano “felt a profound sense of disappointment in the present system of life.”
On the other hand, Luciano, fired after working in technical management of an important Italian automobile industry for almost 30 years, “experienced anger and delusion on seeing that his efforts, scruples, and trustworthiness during so many years of work were considered as nothing.”
Forecasts and Disappointments
Some economists had anticipated very different scenarios. In 1930 economist John Maynard Keynes optimistically forecast “work for all” within the next 50 years, and for decades full employment has been considered an attainable goal. In 1945 the Charter of the United Nations organization set as a goal the rapid achievement of full employment. Until quite recently it was believed that progress would mean a job and fewer hours at work for all. But things have not turned out that way. The serious recession of the last decade has caused the “worst global employment crisis since the Great Depression of the ’30’s,” says the ILO. In South Africa at least 3.6 million people are out of work, including some 3 million black Africans. Even Japan—with over two million out of work last year—is going through a crisis.
Why is unemployment such a widespread plague? What solutions have been proposed to deal with it?
The unemployment rate is the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed.
The “long-term unemployed” are those who have been out of work for more than 12 months. In the EU about half the unemployed fall into this category.
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South Africa—43 percent
Mountain High Maps™ copyright © 1993 Digital Wisdom, Inc.