Job numbers rebound in Asia, but have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels
According to reports by international organisations, almost 105 million people are officially unemployed in Asia-Pacific, 12 per cent more than in 2019. Progress in informal and vulnerable jobs has also been lost, while the sectors with the highest employment growth actually offer few jobs.
Milan (AsiaNews) – Asia-Pacific countries have shown great resilience in recent years in terms of economy and jobs (except some like Myanmar, torn by a brutal civil conflict), but the situation has not yet returned to pre-COVID-19 levels, this according to the latest reports by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
GDP growth in Asia’s emerging economies should average around 5.3 per cent in 2023 and 5.4 per cent in 2024. The average real GDP growth for the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is expected to reach 4.6 per cent in 2023 and 4.8 per cent in 2024, lower than in 2022, but with some resilience.
In 2021 the ILO noted that jobs lost during the pandemic would not be back before this year, urging Asian countries to view the crisis as “wake-up call regarding the need to diversify their economies away from an over-reliance on export-led growth”.
Titled Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2022, ILO’s report indicates that high inflation (plus domestic political crises in some cases) continues to threaten an inclusive and sustainable recovery. The local labour market still lags behind the rest of the world. About 144 million jobs were lost in 2020, and South Asia was the hardest hit region.
While the number of employed people in the Asia-Pacific region was two percentage points higher in 2022 than pre-pandemic levels in 2019, the ILO report shows that the recovery, although positive, was incomplete.
In 2022, the employment-to-population ratio was 56.2 per cent, a bit lower than the 56.9 per cent of 2019. This constitutes a 22-million job gap, involving people looking for work but unable to find it, a figure estimated to rise to 26 million in 2023.
Far too many men and women, young and old, continue to be excluded from the labour market in all subregions of the continent, the report adds.
The number of hours worked also is not back to pre-pandemic levels. The working hour loss in the first three quarters of 2022 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 was estimated at 1.5 per cent (1.9 per cent for men and 0.5 per cent for women).
This explains the high number of unemployed people, nearly 105 million, in Asia-Pacific, 12 per cent more than in 2019.
Lastly, during the pandemic, two important positive trends were reported, namely a decline in the number of people employed in the informal sector and a drop in vulnerable employment. This ended in the post-crisis period, and will not be solved in a short time.
Myanmar is one of the countries most affected by the crisis, with the pandemic compounded by the civil war that followed the military coup of 1 February 2021. In that year alone, the ILO estimates that the country lost 1.6 million jobs, with 18 per cent fewer hours worked compared to 2020, equal to the working hours of 3.1 million people employed full-time.
Women, mainly employed in textiles and tourism, have borne the brunt.
In Asia-Pacific, more than one billion workers (out of a total of 1.9 billion) are engaged in agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and trade. Productivity in these sectors is often low as are wages, working conditions and job security.
The sectors with the highest employment growth are paradoxically those that employ the least number of workers, and mostly men.
The number of people employed in information technology (IT) services, for example, grew by 7.2 per cent per year between 1991 and 2021; however, only 9.4 million people were employed in IT in 2021, or 0.5 per cent of total employment, and three quarters of the eight million jobs over this period went to men.
By comparison, wholesale and retail trade gained 166 million workers between 1991 and 2021, with 277 million men and women employed in the region in 2021.
Men are concentrated in sectors with higher wage potential (such as IT), while women remain segregated in lower-paid sectors (e.g. food services).
According to the ILO, the future challenge will be to boost and support public investment in order to ensure decent jobs in all sectors, but especially in those where most people work.