ILO: Poverty rising in Europe, amid global dearth of solid jobs

Social filtering. Brussels, May 2016. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

A growing number of Europeans are living in “relative poverty”, the UN labour agency said Wednesday (18 May), warning that a lack of quality jobs worldwide was threatening to undo decades of progress in poverty reduction.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) also lamented that, while poverty had declined dramatically in middle-income countries it remained “stubbornly” high in Africa and much of Asia, with nearly two-thirds of Africans still in extreme or moderate poverty.

Overall a new ILO report found that relative poverty — defined as household income below 60% of the national median income — was on the rise in wealthy nations.

“In the developed world there has been … an absolute increase in poverty, notably in this continent of Europe,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters.

In 2012, 22% of inhabitants in developed countries — a full 300 million people — were living in relative poverty, with more than one third of all children in these wealthy nations considered poor, ILO’s 2016 World Employment Social Outlook Report found.

The situation was particularly dramatic in the European Union, which had seen its relative poverty level remain stable at around 16.5% for a number of years leading up to the 2008 global financial crisis.

But in 2012 relative poverty in the bloc swelled to 16.8% and by 2014 it had hit 17.2%, the report said.

The United States also saw its relative poverty rate shoot up by nearly a percentage point from 23.8%in 2005 to 24.6% in 2012, but it had remained stable since then, the statistics showed.

The findings are bad news after decades of dramatic global progress cutting poverty, especially in the world’s poorer nations.

Decent job deficit

Today, nearly two billion people live in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 a day) or moderate poverty (less than $3.10 a day), accounting for around 36% of the population in emerging and developing countries.

That is down from 67.2% in 1990.

“The world has made significant progress in the reduction of poverty,” Ryder said, warning though that the “progress has been uneven and it is fragile.”

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While poverty has declined rapidly in middle-income countries like China and in Latin America, it has remained “stubbornly high” in Africa and much of Asia, he said, pointing out that 64% of Africans still live in extreme or moderate poverty.

A major obstacle to eradicating poverty, both in wealthy and in poorer nations, is a devastating lack of decent, reliable jobs, offering job and income security, and other rights.

For example, nearly one third of people living in extreme and moderate poverty in emerging and developing countries actually have a job, the ILO report showed.

“Addressing the decent work deficits, and they are considerable, is a necessary condition for ending poverty in all its forms,” Ryder said.

Growing inequality is also a major stumbling block, said Raymond Torres, ILO expert on social and economic issues.

Pointing out that the 30% of the global population considered poor holds just 2% of global income, he said it was “past time to reflect on the responsibility of rich nations and individuals in perpetuation of poverty.”

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 is a goal within reach

The EU must avoid the temptation to cut aid budgets and invest more than ever in the developing world’s agricultural and renewable energy sectors, writes Alioune Badara Camara.

If the global community wants to make good on its commitment to eradicate extreme and moderate poverty completely by 2030, ILO has estimated that some $600 billion needs to be spent annually — or $10 trillion over the next 15 years.

That amounts to 0.8% of the global gross domestic product, but Ryder stressed the burden was drastically uneven.

For developing countries in general, the ambitious target would require investments amounting to 21% of their GDPs, while for Malawi, for instance, 78% of its GDP would be needed, he said.


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