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Pandemic caused loss of 255 million jobs worldwide in 2020

January 26, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic caused “massive damage” to employment, and recovery in 2021 will be “slow, uneven and uncertain” if policy makers do not take appropriate action, the UN warned on Monday.

In 2020, “8.8% of global working hours were lost for the whole of last year (relative to the fourth quarter of 2019), equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs.” That represents a loss four times larger than during the 2009 financial crisis, the International Labor Organization (ILO) underlined.

Without considering recent economic support measures, the losses resulted in an 8.3% decline in global labor income, equivalent to $3.7 trillion or 4.4% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The ILO, however, believes the impact of the pandemic on unemployment is being underestimated.

71% of these job losses (81 million people) “came in the form of inactivity, rather than unemployment, meaning that people left the labor market because they were unable to work, perhaps because of pandemic restrictions, or simply ceased to look for work,” the ILO indicates.

Since Covid-19 was first detected in China at the end of 2019, the pandemic has plunged the world into a serious economic crisis, in addition to causing more than 2.1 million deaths and nearly 100 million infections.

‘Relatively strong recovery’

By 2021, the ILO forecasts that most countries will “experience a relatively strong recovery in the second half of the year, as vaccination programs take effect.”

The ILO Observatory has anticipated three possible recovery scenarios. The reference case predicts a loss of 3% of working hours worldwide in 2021, as long as the pandemic is under control, and reflects increased confidence from consumers and companies.

The most affected regions will be the Americas, Europe and Central Asia.

“We are at a fork in the road. One path leads to an uneven, unsustainable, recovery with growing inequality and instability, and the prospect of more crises,” said Guy Ryder, ILO Director General.

The other path is based on “human-centered recovery for building back better, prioritizing employment, income and social protection, workers’ rights and social dialogue,” he added.

‘Lost generation’

The ILO noted that women have been more impacted by the pandemic than men.

“In particular, women were much more likely than men to drop out of the labor market and become inactive,” the agency indicated.

Younger workers have also suffered the consequences, either through job losses, leaving the active sector, or joining it late, according to the report, which speaks of the “all too real risk of a lost generation.”

The employment rate for young people (aged 15 to 24) decreased by 8.7%, compared to 3.7% in the case of older adults.

The most affected sector has been the hotel and restaurant sector, which lost a fifth of its jobs.

On the other hand, the ILO notes an increase in the employment rate in the second and third quarters of 2020 in the fields of information and communication, as well as in finance and insurance.

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