The Fifteen Nations With The Highest Unemployment In The World

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The global unemployment problem is so huge that the total number of jobless in the ten most populous nations in the world totals 1.1 billion. That is only slightly smaller than the population of China. Macedonia’s 33.8% unemployment rate is the world’s highest. The figure is 65.2% when the disabled, those no longer looking for work, and the elderly are included.

24/7 Wall St. looked at unemployment data for every nation with a population of two million or more. Accurate data are far less readily available for smaller nations. We reviewed information from the International Monetary Fund, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization, and the CIA World Factbook. Perhaps surprisingly, the CIA data appears to be the most misleading, and often fails to account for the difference between unemployment rates versus the total number of those not working but of working age.

The first thing that is likely to strike the reader is that most of the nations with high unemployment rates have fairly young governments. They were, usually, either colonies of larger countries or provinces of existing nations that have gained independence. The other observation, perhaps obvious, is that war-torn nations tend to have high unemployment rates, almost certainly because people are uprooted and infrastructure is upended as a result of the violence.

Country Total Population Total Unemployed Over 14
China 1,330,141,295 306,664,076
India 1,173,108,018 355,747,353
United States 310,232,863 100,753,706
Indonesia 242,968,342 67,382,896
Brazil 201,103,330 53,432,350
Pakistan 177,276,594 53,908,926
Bangladesh 158,065,841 34,502,612
Nigeria 152,217,341 42,040,299
Russian Federation 139,390,205 51,483,633
Japan 126,804,433 50,294,189
Total Unemployed 15 Or Older 1,116,210,039

One reason that is particularly hard to quantify unemployment is the extent to which developing nations are agrarian economies.  The U.S. economy was much different 100 years ago when more people worked on farms. That may be why the American unemployment rate is now defined as non-farm payrolls.

The figure most economists use when talking about joblessness on a national scale is the unemployment rate, which can mean different things depending on which country or organization is reporting the statistic. As it is used in the United States, “unemployment rate” means the percentage of the potential labor force that is currently out of work. The potential labor force, referred to by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics as the “civilian labor force,” are people who are at least 16-years-old and actively seeking employment. What many fail to realize, however, is that this number does not include people who have given up looking for jobs, people who are working part-time that wish to work full-time (i.e., the underemployed) and people who will never look for a job. It also does not include those who are unable to work because they are physically or mentally disabled.

As a result, the official U.S. unemployment rate – now 9.7% – can be misleading. The effect is multiplied when it compared with the jobless rates of other nations because there is no single standard for measuring unemployment around the world. Countries cite rates in markedly different ways. Some consider applicable job age to be younger than in the U.S.  Others only measure urban areas to differentiate  job seekers from subsistence farmers. These discrepancies present problems for an analysis of a county’s “unemployment rate,” and skew results.

The methodology that 24/7 Wall St. used to evaluate and define total unemployment includes: (1) identifying the 15 countries with the highest unemployment rates based on data collected by the United Nations’s Yearbook of Labor Statistics, considered to be the best resource for nationally reported statistics; (2) evaluating the total number of people over 14 who are unemployed in each of these countries, based on the International Labour Office’s Key Indicators of the Labour Market programme, a United Nations programme considered to be more accurate and comprehensive than the nationally reported data; (3) comparing these numbers to other sources, including the U.S. State Department, the IMF, the CIA Factbook, and Organization of Economic Co-operation; and (4) employing the United Nation’s International Labour Organization’s databases – the Yearbook and KILM – which provide the most consistent and complete set of data across the largest number of countries.

This analysis suggests that most countries fail to distinguish between the unemployment rate and the greater economic picture of their economies. Even the CIA World Factbook, which is easily the most widely referenced source for country information, often does not discriminate between unemployment as reported by countries and the total number of unemployed as represented by the International Labour Organization statistics. The  number of unemployed over 14 is as much as 50% greater than the reported unemployment rate.

Unemployment rates as a standard for economic analysis are more complicated when considering the circumstances of each nation. War-torn regions with high displacement, areas with class inequities, gender discrimination, prevalence of disease or disability, inaccurate reporting or deliberately misleading information released as propaganda — these factors can lead to inaccurate unemployment rates.

In addition to job figures, the 24/7 Wall St. profile of each country includes per capita GDP, literacy rates, types of government, and the time these nations became sovereign bodies.