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Unemployment, as defined by the ILO (International labor Office), includes all persons of working age (by convention older than 15 years) who during the one-week reference period:
  1. are without work: did not work at all, not even one hour;
  2. are currently available to start working within two weeks;
  3. took active steps to seek work during the preceding four weeks or found work due to start within three months.
Persons without work but willing to work are not necessarily unemployed under ILO's definition, because:
  • they may not be available to start working in two weeks time; or
  • they did not take active steps to find work during the preceding four weeks.
All unemployed persons are not necessarily willing to work, because they may already have found work due to start at a later date, and do not consider appropriate to take another commitment now.
The labor force, or active population, is the result of the sum of employed and unemployed persons. The unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the total economically active population.
In spite of the attempt made to achieve a robust definition of unemployment, allowing for meaningful comparisons, the veracity of officially reported unemployment statistics is often questioned. Given the socially sensitive nature of unemployment, people in power make big efforts to reduce unemployment numbers. They can do this in two ways. First, by actually providing jobs to job seekers. This is often not easy. Second, by modifying the concept definition so that a number of genuine unemployed cease to participate in the labor force and can be removed from the records. This is much easier, and a wide range of regulatory devices have been developed for this purpose, including :
  • Creating and assigning to unemployed persons short-time temporary jobs that will suspend their unemployment status.
  • Implementing early retirement plans for aged workers, or military service for youngsters, or other such schemes allowing to shorten the lists of unemployed.
  • Encouraging emigration, thus exporting domestic unemployment.
  • Increasing the frequency of compulsory control visits at the unemployment offices, thus enhancing the likelihood that some unemployed will miss one visit, with the consequence of being struck off the records.
  • Taking a zero tolerance stance by screening more stringently the unemployed persons, with a view to cross off those that do not exactly match the criteria at the moment of the control.
  • Making criteria for unemployment more demanding and more difficult for unemployed to comply with.
  • Promoting and supporting the creation of self-employment businesses by unemployed people.
  • Tightening the criteria for granting unemployment benefits, thus discouraging the more pessimistic unemployed persons from enlisting.
  • Implementing skills training programs, with a view to transferring people from unemployment lists to education and development schemes.
  • Providing incentives for employers to create short-term assignment or other limited-duration work contracts for the purpose of purging the lists of unemployed.
  • Declaring job searching a work activity by itself, to be remunerated by some state office, thus turning unemployed persons into employees.
  • Transferring long-term unsuccessful employment-seeking persons and discouraged job-seekers to social aid.

Source: ILO (International Labour Organisation): Key Indicators of the Labour Market, 9th edition.