Sobering job news in the U.S. got us wondering: If the picture here in the world’s largest economy isn’t bright (8.2 percent unemployment, worse than four years ago) what’s it like elsewhere?
We turned to the CIA’s World Factbook. We found that nowhere is unemployment higher than in Zimbabwe, where the dictator Robert Mugabe rules the economy. According to a 2009 estimate, 95 percent of the country’s 3.8 million workers were unemployed. The gross domestic product (GDP) breaks down to a scant $500 a person. Somehow only 68 percent of Zimbabweans live below the country’s poverty line.
In contrast, Qatar’s unemployment rate is lowest in the world, at 0.4 percent. Most Qataris — 79 percent — work in industry, notably gas and oil production, which accounts for more than 50 percent of GDP.
Vietnam’s unemployment rate is a mere 2.3 percent, but most people there work in agriculture. Just over one in five Vietnamese workers — 22.4 percent — work in industry.
Egypt has made headlines for its high unemployment rate, which is 12.2 percent, yet spikes to 22 percent for people aged 18 to 28. Despite years of relatively strong economic growth, one-fifth of Egyptians live below the country’s poverty line.
Egypt is thriving compared to Spain, where unemployment now stands at 20.8 percent, worst among Europe’s large economies. In Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, unemployment stands at 5.7 percent. Neighboring Austria has the lowest unemployment rate, four percent, among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group primarily made up of advanced economies.
Some developing countries have surprisingly low unemployment — Bangladesh, for instance, has an unemployment rate of five percent. But nearly 40 percent of its workforce is underemployed. Remittances from overseas workers make up a staggering 12 percent of the country’s GDP. Another high-remittance country is Kosovo, where overseas remittances from refugees who fled the region’s wars in the 1990s comprise 10 percent of GDP. There, unemployment is 45 percent.
Overall, U.S. unemployment rates are right about average for the OECD – small comfort for those without jobs. As a double dip recession looks possible, should we be grateful we aren’t Zimbabwe?