Economic Outlook: The bottom line: Jobs

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  May 1, 2012 at 10:12 AM
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Where was the International Labor Organization going to sit when it came to figuring out a strategy to get economies moving again?

If your bias is jobs -- and whose bias is not jobs? -- then you measure the approach to solving the world's economic mess by counting jobs. That makes it pretty simple. That's one litmus test for everybody -- for Brazil, the United States, Ethiopia, Peru and Iceland. Everybody start counting.

The ILO started counting and figured, in its annual "World of Work Report 2012: Better Jobs for a Better Economy," that the economic downturn that roughly kicked off in 2007 has erased 50 million jobs worldwide.

That's a heavy enough toll, but the ILO takes this statistic and spins an alarming morality tale off of that: The austerity budgeting adopted to bring economies around is not working.

Simply put, "fiscal austerity combined with labor market deregulation will not promote employment prospects in the short term. In general, there is no clear link between labor market reforms and higher employment levels," said the ILO report released Monday.

There are, of course, other ways of measuring an economic recovery. Stock prices have recovered, which generally means those wealthy enough to have a stock portfolio that survived the downturn are in a better mood every day. Salaries at big banks survived the great bonus scare of 2009 and went right back to mind-boggling levels -- after all, there are fewer bankers now and much larger banks, given Bank of America now owns Merrill Lynch & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. now owns Wachovia and JP Morgan & Chase now owns Bear Stearns.

This trend is not new, nor was it even accelerated much by the fiscal crisis. What were 37 banks in 1995 is now a grand total of four, including the survivors mentioned above and Citigroup, which swallowed four financial firms from 1990 to 2001.

Back to jobs. Here are some of the startling statistics from the ILO report released Monday.

From 2010 to 2011, where information was available, 57 out of 106 countries showed an increase in the ILO's Social Unrest Index.

From 2007 until 2012, only six developed countries have seen their employment rates improve -- Austria, Germany, Israel, Luxembourg, Malta and Poland.

In half of the developed economies and in one-third of developing economies, poverty rates have risen since 2007.

On average, more than 40 percent of those seeking jobs in developed economies have been looking for work for more than a year.

And, as one would expect, in 26 of 40 countries where information was available, the percentage of union workers has dropped from 2000 to 2009.

Who really measures an economy through jobs and jobs alone? It would be too easy to say, "everybody." But almost everybody sees sustainable, rewarding jobs as the bottom line measure of economic success. That would be economists, politicians, community activists, union leaders, almost everybody in between and, of course, everybody who is out of work.

In international markets Tuesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan lost 1.78 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China fell 0.35 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 1.7 percent, while the Sensex in India gained 0.76 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.75 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain gained 0.31 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany lost 0.59 percent. The CAC 40 in France fell 1.64 percent.

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