Why jobs and livelihoods matter

By Aurelio Parisotto, Senior Economist, International Labour Organization

Girls carry bricks in the town of Zemio in Uganda
Girls carry bricks in the town of Zemio in Uganda

As we approach the 2015 deadline for the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we have a golden opportunity to put jobs and livelihoods at the top of the international development agenda. This is not simply according to the ILO. The first results of the UN ‘My World’ global survey, which asked people in 190 countries for their priorities for a post-2015 development agenda, show that “jobs are a high priority everywhere.”

From Albania and Jordan to Vietnam and Zambia, the call for more and better job opportunities was also made loud and clear in online discussions and national consultations organized by the UN. In Uganda, of the 17,000 people consulted, about half said that getting a job was their top priority. Many also mentioned the need for better social protection, especially in informal sectors where economic and social insecurity is high.

These demands are not surprising given the current global labour market situation.

The scale of the challenge

Today, there are over 200 million unemployed worldwide, almost 74 million of whom are young people. Beyond the sheer number of additional jobs needed, the quality of jobs also requires urgent attention.

One in every three workers in the world is living with their families below the US$2 poverty line. They work as paid employees, own-account workers or unpaid family labour, but remain trapped in poverty. Looking ahead, some 470 million new jobs will be needed in the fifteen years from 2015 to 2030, just to keep up with the growth of the world’s working age population.

More will also have to be done to ensure those jobs are decent, offering people a true opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. This implies concerted action to address persistent economic volatility and widening income inequalities, which are weakening the social and political fabric of our societies.

An action-oriented agenda

Simply put, we need policies that generate decent jobs. There are examples to follow.

The countries that have gone down this road for instance in Latin America and Asia – first addressed the structural factors underlying poverty and underemployment. They focused on making economic growth more inclusive by combining policies to foster investment and enterprise creation with measures to extend social protection and strengthen labour markets.

Other core elements of success included stable and sound government institutions committed to the rule of law, human rights, property rights and a suitable environment for starting and growing businesses. Labour market policies and institutions such as minimum wages and employment protection legislation also played a role.

A globally agreed agenda to improve the quality and quantity of employment would stimulate countries to focus policy attention and resources on critical aspects that were not sufficiently addressed in the MDGs.

But ultimately it will be national action that will determine the success of the new development framework. Individual countries will set their own targets and take up the main responsibility of achieving them in line with national circumstances and needs.

Designing policy and monitoring progress

International support for countries to improve the collection and availability of statistics should be a key element of the new development framework.

Many developing countries already have the basic indicators for monitoring improvements in jobs and livelihoods. However, information gaps remain on the quality of jobs, particularly for people at the bottom end of the economy. A small, internationally coordinated investment in the quantity and quality of labour market statistics could make an important difference.

Ensuring that the private sector, trade unions and civil society are engaged will also be critical. Experience shows that discussions of labour and social issues benefit from the participation of different ministries and technical agencies. International assistance can play a role in facilitating those interactions.

We must meet the challenge

Access to safe, productive and fairly remunerated work is not just about earning an income. It is an important means for individuals and families to gain self-esteem, a sense of belonging to a community and a way to make a productive contribution. A shift to inclusive and sustainable development will not be possible if millions of people are denied the opportunity to earn their living in conditions of equity and dignity.

Where jobs are scarce or available livelihoods leave households in poverty there is less growth, less security and less human and economic development.

There is no doubting the scale of the challenge, which is why full and productive employment and decent work should be upgraded as a central goal of the post-2015 development agenda.

You can have your own say on the post-2015 MDGs here.

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