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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 15:48 GMT
Latin American unemployment soars
Protests in Argentina
Many people are angry at their plunge into poverty
Seventeen million Latin American people are out of work as the unemployment rate in the region has shot up to its highest level since 1980, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The rise could "destabilise the two big accomplishments of the 1990s; a shift toward democratic governments and greater participation in globalisation," said ILO regional director Augustin Munoz.

We are expecting the US economy to grow around 4%, and we are expecting the Argentine economy to recover

Augustin Munoz, ILO regional director
With only one in three workers in the region having access to a social security system, and with almost three in four new jobs being informal, poverty is rife and job security virtually non-existent.

"There are fewer jobs, and existing jobs are lower paying," said the director of ILO's office in Chile, Ricardo Infante.

"A general economic slowdown and severe recession in some countries made for poorer employment indicators, in particular, higher unemployment and lower income," the ILO said.

At 9.2%, the unemployment rate for the first nine months of this year has surged from 8.1% during the same period last year.

And minimum wages are falling almost three times as fast as they grew in 2001, ILO statistics revealed.

Still rising

Last year, economic growth in Latin America reached 0.5% while this year the region's economy is expected to shrink 0.8%, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said.

"That means there is less consumer demand and fewer formal jobs," he said.

Unemployment for 2002 as a whole is expected to peak at 9.3%, the ILO said.

But the ILO expects 3% economic growth to return to the region, and if this happens, unemployment should fall to 8.6% next year, it said.

"For this to happen, we are expecting to get no further shocks from outside the region," said Mr Munoz.

"We are expecting the US economy to grow around 4%, and we are expecting the Argentine economy to recover."

Regional differences

Argentina was the worst hit economy with unemployment reaching 21.5% during the nine first months of this year, up from 16.4% a year earlier.

The country is struggling to repay its massive foreign debts, its peso currency has been seriously devalued this year, and millions of people live in poverty.

Venezuela, which has been crippled by a strike in the oil industry, saw unemployment rise to 15.5%.

In Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America, unemployment reached 7.3%.

Mexico, Uruguay, Peru and Costa Rica also saw unemployment rise, but the rate fell in Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, El Salvador and Chile, the ILO said.

The ILO report was released in advance of the UN agency's annual meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Four hundred government, business and labour leaders gather in Lima on Tuesday.


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