Think US Unemployment is High? These 4 Countries Have Outrageously High Unemployment Rates

By | November 11, 2014 at 11:09 PM |

Citizens and politicians alike are quick to gripe about the United State’s seemingly high unemployment rate. But are things really so bad? Take a look at these four countries with outrageously high unemployment rates.

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1. Zimbabwe - 94%

Just a few weeks ago the United Nations put the unemployment rate of this southern African nation at a staggering 94%. The government, however, insists that the rate is much lower. President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party claimed that unemployment levels were at 60%. Secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union, Japhet Moyo, puts the rate somewhere between 80% and 90%, while the country’s National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations insists that the unemployment rate is 95%.

And the Zimbabwe’s agency for national statistics, Zimstat, put unemployment at 10.7%. So 10%? 60%? 90%? It’s unlikely that there will be any consensus reached regarding the official number of unemployed, especially considering much of the fluctuations in question has to do with whether or not subsistence farming counts as employment. Though the 10% estimate is nothing more than a delusion. However, one thing is for sure: a substantial proportion of the country is without work.

The high unemployment rates and overall economic instability of the country can be attributed to a brutal war with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which drained the country of millions of dollars, in conjunction with a series of disastrous economic reforms in the early 2000s.

The country seized a number of commercial farms, redistributing them to new owners. The move was a highly political one, and land was given to officials who had little interest in or experience with farming. Subsequently, productivity plummeted, leaving the country without exports.

A shrinking economy, rising debt, and the rapid hyperinflation, which caused the country to suspend its currency at one point, all wreaked economic havoc on the country, driving up unemployment to sky-high levels.

2. Greece - 27.2%

As of January 2014 this Mediterranean nation had an unemployment rate of 27.2%, meaning that one out of every four people in the country is out of work. That translates into roughly 3.5 million people. For those under the age of 25, the situation is even worse, with unemployment among youths hitting a staggering 61.4% earlier this year.

"Greece's (unemployment situation) mainly affects youth and high-skilled jobs," explains Vasilis Kitso, a Greece citizen with a post-graduate degree who has been unable to find a job. "It's wiped out the country's human capital and society's self-esteem and dynamics."

Most blame the high unemployment rate on the financial crisis and ensuing recession. Before the financial crash Greece was growing at a rate of approximately 5% annually, adding nearly 50,000 jobs a year to the economy. Interestingly, unlike Spain, which saw a tremendous increase in unemployment following the collapse of the housing bubble, Greece managed to keep initially its unemployment rate relatively stable.

Before Greece received its first 110 billion euro bailout in May of 2010, unemployment was at roughly 12%. Things quickly digressed, however, as the country’s sovereign debt crisis instigated a full-blown unemployment crisis, forcing austerity measures that put the brakes on economic growth.

3. Spain - 25%

Another Eurozone economy hit hard by the economic crisis; Spain’s unemployment rate currently hovers around 25%. An unusually high reliance on temporary workers (Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show that close to one-third of employees in Spain worked under temporary contracts pre-recession), in conjunction with a high proportion of jobs in the construction sector, created the perfect storm of unemployment.

“The composition of Spanish jobs made the economy vulnerable to dramatic job losses during a recession. In 2007, almost 13 percent of jobs in Spain were in construction,” explain Thomas Klitgaard and Ayşegül Şahin in their 2012 report examining unemployment in both Spain and Greece. “Such a heavy weight on this sector made employment more vulnerable to a downturn given the fact that construction is the sector that typically experiences the steepest decline in a recession. Indeed, construction, as measured in the GDP accounts, fell 35 percent from 2007 to 2011, and the sector accounted for almost 60 percent of the decline in total employment over this period.”

As with Greece, the country’s youth have been hit the hardest. Many have dubbed the country’s enormous swath of unemployed youth as the “Lost Generation.” So, what is the solution to resolving the unemployment crisis? Many have called for the EU to step in. "It is by now clear that freezing wages and liberalizing labor markets, by themselves, do not help, explains Guglielmo Meardi, professor of Industrial Relations at Warwick Business School.

The EU has to take some difficult decision, either on plans to support growth in depressed regions through demand, and not only supply policies, or on socially and politically sustainable ways to facilitate worker mobility between regions.”

4. Serbia - 20%

Approximately 1 out of every 5 Serbians is unemployed. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. On average job seekers spend four years looking for work and approximately half of the unemployed are those under the age of 30. More than half of the population is facing poverty. In spite of increased GDP growth and a surge in exports, unemployment remains high.

So, what does the future look like for Serbs? Well, Vucic and his Progressive Party, who previously avoided dealing with the IMF, recently entered talks with the Washington-based international organization. “We expect an agreement with the IMF to be signed by Christmas, and that will be a very important thing for our partners,” Vucic said. This could potentially attract more foreign investments to stimulate the economy.

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