The Challenges of Growth, Employment and Social Cohesion

The global financial crisis and the ensuing recession have had devastating consequences for employment and poverty reduction. The ILO estimates that 34 million more people worldwide are unemployed now as a result of the crisis. Combating unemployment and striving to attain decent work for all must be a key priority as the global economy emerges from the downturn.

The September 13 IMF-ILO conference on “The Challenges of Growth, Employment and Social Cohesion” in Oslo is designed to tackle the difficult—but critical—policy questions posed by the steep rise in joblessness and the setback to growth and poverty reduction. The conference, which is sponsored by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, will bring together senior government officials, labor and business leaders, and well-known economists to address the possible long-term and short-term responses to the employment crisis. IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and ILO Director General Juan Somavia will chair the conference. Among the international figures that have already accepted speaking invitations are: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Prime Minister George Papandreou of Greece, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of France, U.K. Secretary of State for Labour Iain Duncan Smith, and International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

High unemployment and underemployment have high economic and social costs that—unless addressed—have the potential to drain the vitality out of any recovery. The great risk is that short-term job losses become long-term unemployment, producing a progressive loss of workers’ skills and exclusion from the productive economy. In such circumstances, demand can languish and the economy can become trapped in a cycle of stagnant growth and high unemployment. Increasing economic dislocation and marginalization can undermine social cohesion—carrying with it dangers to peace and stability.

Global media attention to the economic downturn has focused on the advanced economies, where jobless rates have risen sharply since 2008. However, the consequences of unemployment and underemployment can also be very severe in developing counties, because they often can provide less social protection to support basic living standards. The World Bank estimates that up to 60 million people may have been pushed into severe poverty in the low-income countries as a result of the crisis, setting back recent efforts to improve living standards.

The conference will focus on both short and long-term policy measures. The short-term measures—to be addressed during a morning roundtable discussion—consider the human cost of the financial crisis and how to ease the burden of joblessness. The second roundtable, in the afternoon, will focus on the longer-term policy measures, and address new strategies to kick-start vibrant employment growth and make markets work more for people. It will discuss wage policies, education and training, support to smaller enterprises and 21st century social protection. By bringing together a diverse group of speakers and participants, the conference will seek to define global solutions relevant to all regions.