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World View : A Revolution at Work : Nearly one-third of the world's labor force is jobless or underemployed. But technology promises change.

March 07, 1995|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In Washington, peddlers hawk everything from perfume to pajamas and from T-shirts to towels at card tables and in covered booths near the White House and on downtown thoroughfares.

Seeking Solutions

The employment crisis is so dire that theorists are rethinking the whole concept of work. "We have to find innovative ways to create new forms of work. Many developing societies have to move away from the Western idea of what a job is," said Francisco Sagasti, a Peruvian economist.

Peru, where 15% of the labor force is unemployed and another 50% underemployed, is experimenting with alliances combining private-sector goods, state funds and unpaid labor. To provide breakfast for schoolchildren in the northern highlands, for example, the National Nutrition Agency puts out bids for cereals, wheat and milk from private industry. Women in grass-roots volunteer groups distribute the food.

"In the West, workers get income and benefits from their labor. This arrangement of alliances involves no salary, but people are also exchanging their services for goods,' Sagasti said.

As the world's job market goes through upheaval, flexibility and agility will be the keys to survival.

"Job growth is going to be unpredictable, so employers and employees need to be able to switch from what are the slower-growing areas this year to something else next year. They need to recognize where markets are moving and be responsive, quickly," said Deferranti, the World Bank specialist.

"It means a totally different way of thinking and working. So far, most people aren't moving fast enough."

Education is the key. Studies show, for example, that farmers with no more than a grade school education still have higher yields than those with no education.

"Through education,' Deferranti said, "people learn how to change or adapt to the environment."

Region by Region: Employment in the '90s

WESTERN EUROPE, UNITED STATES, JAPAN: Job creation isn't matching the pace of economic growth. Most industrialized countries face double-digit joblessness. U.S. unemployment rates have dropped, but new jobs often pay less, require fewer skills and are less secure.

EASTERN EUROPE: Millions of jobs are being eliminated during the transition from a controlled economy to free markets, with few jobs created in their place.

LATIN AMERICA: Rapid population growth, migration to urban areas and increasing female employment have created growing demand at the same time that states are cutting back public-sector jobs. Most new jobs are in the informal sector.

MIDDLE EAST, NORTH AFRICA: Declining oil revenues and burgeoning populations mean even rich governments can no longer guarantee jobs for their own college graduates, much less the millions from poorer Mideast countries they once absorbed.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: More than half of non-agricultural jobs are provided by the state. But heavily indebted governments can't raise wages of those they employ, much less absorb the huge labor force coming of age. More than 60% of the urban labor force is in informal sector.

ASIA: In East Asia, rapid economic growth has helped create a growing array of jobs in the developing world's most hopeful region. But in South Asia, vast numbers of new jobs are needed to accommodate high birthrates, urban migration and women joining the labor force.

SOURCES: "The Employment Challenge: An Agenda for Action" by the U.N. Development Program; "World Unemployment 1995" by the International Labor Organization.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Jobs on the Move

The structure of employment has changed worldwide since 1965, but the shifts are most dramatic between different types of economies.

% of workers employed by sector

* WORLD

1965

Agricultural: 57%

Industrial: 19%

Services: 24%

1989-'91

Agricultural: 48%

Industrial: 17%

Services: 35%

* INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES

1965

Agricultural: 22%

Industrial: 37%

Services: 41%

1989-'91

Agricultural: 7%

Industrial: 26%

Services: 67%

* DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

1965

Agricultural: 72%

Industrial: 11%

Services: 17%

1989-'91

Agricultural: 61%

Industrial: 14%

Services: 25%

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