Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

IMF Survey: Rising Unemployment Marks Crisis Third Wave, Says IMF Chief

September 5, 2009

  • Signs of economic recovery, but unemployment still climbing
  • Governments need to continue with economic stimulus plans to combat crisis
  • G-20’s actions have "avoided a possible catastrophe"

Policy action to combat the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is working, but governments should not relax stimulus measures until recovery takes hold and unemployment levels recede, the head of the International Monetary Fund says.

Rising Unemployment Marks Crisis Third Wave, Says IMF Chief

Job-center line in Madrid, Spain: despite signs of recovery, the jobless rate is likely to rise further in Europe (photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters)

G-20 London meeting

Speaking to reporters in London after a two-day meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors of advanced and emerging market countries, Dominique Strauss-Kahn said signs of recovery could be seen, but unemployment would continue to rise.

“We are seeing the third wave of the crisis, which is rising levels of unemployment,” Strauss-Kahn told reporters. The first two waves were the financial crisis and the consequent global economic crisis.

“Imagine the worker in Germany or France who will lose his job in the months ahead. For that worker the crisis is not behind him, but still ahead,” he said at a press conference following the meeting of the Group of Twenty (G-20) ministers.

Sluggish recovery

The IMF has said the global economy appears to be emerging from the worst financial and economic crisis in the post-war period, but is emphasizing that the recovery will be sluggish and that a jobless recovery remains a risk. Unemployment could go on rising for the next year.

Given the fragility of the recovery, Strauss-Kahn—reflecting his earlier remarks at the Bundesbank in Berlin on September 4—said that policymakers should err on the side of caution as they decide when to exit from their crisis response policies, although governments should develop their exit plans now so that they are able to build public support and act when the time is right.

G-20 ministers “all recognized today that even if we need to discuss our exit strategy, it’s not the time to implement it. It’s time to go on supporting demand until private demand is strong enough so that public demand can be reduced,” he said.

The meeting was held to prepare for a summit of G-20 leaders set for later in September in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh. G-20 ministers said in a communiqué that unprecedented and concerted global policy action had arrested the decline, and financial markets were stabilizing.

They said they would endeavor to combat joblessness by promoting employment through structural policies, active labor market policies, training and education. They emphasized that recovery would need to be complemented by a rebalancing of global demand.

Tightening regulation

Strauss-Kahn praised the level of cooperation between the G-20 and the Fund and saw the ministers’ meeting as a success and a good preparation for Pittsburgh. The joint action by the G-20 earlier this year had "avoided a possible catastrophe."

On strengthening regulation of the financial sector, where the crisis erupted, Strauss-Kahn said much had been done, but more concrete measures were needed on capital requirements for banks, cross-border issues, and compensation for financial executives.

Although a risk-taking culture has been the hallmark of major financial firms—with generous bonuses rewarding high short-term profits, and insufficient regard for longer-term risks—policymakers recognized that excessive risk-taking contributed to problems of procyclicality and hence was an important factor in the crisis.

“I worry that as the financial sector emerges from crisis, a “business as usual” mentality may prevent serious progress from being made,” he said.

Progress by IMF

Strauss-Kahn underlined the progress made by the IMF since the April G-20 meeting in combating the crisis and building up resources to help countries at risk. “The IMF delivered everything, and even more,” he remarked.

• Tripling of resources. The G-20 had mandated a tripling of IMF resources to around $750 billion as an insurance policy to help combat further global fallout from the crisis. Strauss-Kahn said the addition $500 billion was now almost completely pledged and he thanked ministers for delivering on the proposed increase.

• Allocation of SDRs. The G-20 had called for an injection of $250 billion into member country reserves through an allocation of Special Drawing Rights, the IMF’s reserve asset. The allocation was made on August 28.

• Help for low-income countries. The G-20 had asked for $6 billion for low-income countries over 2-3 years. The IMF will be able to provide $8 billion during the period and $17 billion by 2015. Interest rates for the world’s poorer countries will be at zero percent, at least until 2011.For more on low-income countries see the IMF’s policy Blog: http://blog-imfdirect.imf.org/ .

Governance of the Fund

Looking at governance of the Fund and other international financial institutions (IFIs), the G-20 ministers said they recognized that the IMF should remain a quota-based organization—meaning representation should be based largely on a country’s weight in the global economy. But they said that, as part of ongoing reforms, the voice and representation of emerging and developing economies, including the poorest, must be significantly increased to reflect changes in the world economy.

“To achieve this we look forward to substantial progress in Pittsburgh. We also reaffirm our commitment to increase accountability, strengthen the involvement of Fund Governors in strategic oversight, and agree to move to an open, transparent and merit-based selection of IFI management.”

“To improve the role and effectiveness of the Fund in supporting stronger cooperation and ensuring a more sustainable global economy and international financial system, candid, even-handed, and independent surveillance will be vital. We call on the IMF, working with other international institutions, to continue assessing our actions to secure a sustainable recovery,” the communiqué added.

Comments on this article should be sent to imfsurvey@imf.org