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Global living and working conditions

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Impoverishment of the workers and people around the world

    * Out of the world's 6.5 billion people, more than one billion are unemployed or underemployed. At the end of 2005, 2.85 billion people aged 15 and older were working.

    * In 2005 of the over 2.8 billion workers worldwide, nearly 1.4 billion did not earn above US$2 a person a day and among these most impoverished workers 520 million lived on less than US$1 a day per family member. This is the case despite the fact that most of them work long and difficult hours, often under adverse conditions.

    * The number of people living in what UN agencies refer to as "absolute poverty" worldwide (i.e. under US$1 per day) declined significantly from 1,237 million in 1990 to 1,100 million in 2000. However, most of this improvement is accounted for by the changes in just two very large countries, China and India, where 38 per cent of the world's population live. In China alone the number of people living in absolute poverty declined from 361 million to 204 million. Elsewhere, in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, poverty has increased by 82, 14, and 8 million, respectively.

    * The per capita annual income in more than 100 countries is lower today than 15 years ago. That means some 1.5 billion people are measurably worse off than they were at the beginning of the 1980s. Some 800 million people today are undernourished and 95 per cent of them live in the countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Some 500 million people who are alive today will not live to see their 40th birthday.

Growing gap between rich and poor on the world scale

    * Out of the 6.5 billion people in the world today, only 500 million live in relative comfort and the vast majority of these live in the Triad (North America, Europe and Japan); the other 6 billion cannot afford even the most basic elements of decent living.

    * The gap between rich and poor continues to grow on a world scale. In 1960, the world's richest 20 per cent earned more than 30 times as much as the poorest 20 per cent. Now the gap has widened to more than 80 times between the same two groups.

    * Put another way: The 300 greatest fortunes in the world represent the equivalent earnings of the poorest 50 per cent of the world's population -- that's more than 3 billion human beings. The wealth of the 15 richest people in the world is greater than the Gross National Product of all the sub-Saharan African countries.

    * More than four billion people -- men, women, children, the sick, and the elderly -- are deprived of the most basic human rights: the rights to life, health, education, clean water, basic food, housing, employment, dignity now and hope for the future. This planet can supply more than 100 per cent of required basic foods, yet more than 30 million people die of hunger every year and more than 800 million suffer chronically from malnutrition.

    * Most of the highly populated states that have abundant raw materials -- Russia, India, China, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico -- are among the poorest countries in the world.

    * After centuries of being ruthlessly exploited by colonialism and imperialism, the countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean now find themselves drained dry -- not only robbed of their natural resources, but also crushed under the burden of huge and endless debts to the very countries that oppressed, colonized and economically plundered them. It has been statistically proven time and time again that it is impossible for these countries to generate enough revenue to both pay off their artificially-created debts and still achieve even a minimum level of social and economic progress.

    * In the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, two out of every five children suffer from physical and mental growth retardation; one out of every three is dangerously underweight; 30,000 children who could be saved by the simplest of medical and nutritional interventions are dying every single day; two million girls are annually forced into prostitution; 130 million children have no access to elementary education; and 250 million minors under age 15 are forced to work for a living as virtual indentured slaves.

    * The gap between rich and poor also exists within the United States and other countries of the Triad. In Canada in 2005, the top 30 per cent of families earned 60.3 per cent of all income. The bottom 30 per cent earned 7.8 per cent of all income, leaving 31.9 per cent of all income to the remaining 40 per cent. More than 30 million residents of the United States (10 per cent of the population) face a life expectancy of less than 60 years. More than 40 million people in the US live without subsidized medical coverage of any kind and more than 45 million officially live below the poverty line.

United States

    * 37 million Americans, one out of every eight Americans, and many of whom are children, live below the official poverty threshold, which is $19,971 a year for a family of four.

    * More than 90 million Americans, close to a third of the entire population, are struggling to make ends meet on incomes that are less than twice the official poverty line.

    * The number of poor people in America has increased by five million over the past six years. The gap between rich and poor has grown to historic proportions. The richest one percent of Americans got nearly 20 per cent of the nation's income in 2005, while the poorest 20 per cent could collectively garner only a measly 3.4 percent.

    * One-fifth of the working men in America and 29 per cent of working women are in full-time, year-round employment which pays wages under the poverty line.

    * The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. Even if it were raised to $8.40 it would still only be half the average hourly wage in the US.

    * Today's minimum wage is less than $11,000 a year for a full-time work.

    * There are presently 50 million non-union service economy jobs in the US and 10 to 15 million more are expected over the next decade.

    * Within a year of leaving college women earn 20 per cent less than their male counterparts. Ten years after graduation, the pay gap gets worse with women earning 69 per cent of what men earn.

    * Women are twice as likely as men to be working at minimum wage, and that rate is even higher for women of colour. Today over nine million women are at the bottom of the wage ladder, paid less than $7.25 per hour.

    * The national average base annual salary for a 40-hour work week in the US is $40,988.

    * Average weekly earnings fell 0.1 percent in April and over the year, average hourly and weekly earnings grew by only 3.7 and 3.4 per cent, respectively.

    * In April 2007, the Labour Department reported that manufacturing firms cut 19,000 jobs in the tenth straight decline in employment. Machinery companies cut 5,000 jobs, motor vehicles another 5,000 and textile mills 3,000.

    * Corporate profits more than doubled since 2000. Profits as a share of national income in 2006 were at the highest level ever recorded.

(With files from Task Force on Poverty by the Center for American Progress, American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, National Organization for Women)

Growing numbers of migrant workers worldwide

Capital-centred ideology considers workers and their families, which its' ideologues term "human capital" within a global "labour market," as the equivalent of raw materials and production plants -- as "costs of production" to be moved from place to place according to the needs of the monopolies. Whether it is within a country or internationally the outlook is presented that if a worker is unemployed they should uproot themselves and their families and move to where the "labour market" demands, which means where the monopolies want them to work.

    * The rate of growth of the world's migrant population more than doubled between the 1960s and the 1990s, reaching 2.6 per cent in 1985-1990. Much of the growth has been observed in developing regions where figures rose markedly from a low of 0.3 per cent a year in 1965-1975 to 2.7 per cent annually in 1985-1990. There is every indication that this is just the beginning of a trend that will most likely accelerate.

    * The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that as of 2005 there are roughly 20 million migrant workers, immigrants and members of their families across Africa, 18 million in North America, 12 million in Central and South America, 7 million in South and East Asia, 9 million in the Middle East and 30 million across all of Europe. Western Europe alone counts approximately 9 million economically active citizens of other countries along with 13 million dependents.

    * A growing trend is the increase in the number of what are referred to as "illegal" or "undocumented" workers. The numbers of "unauthorized" migrant workers are increasing in virtually every part of the world. Of the 80 to 97 million migrant workers and their dependents now in countries other than their own, it is estimated that perhaps no less than 15 per cent are working on an irregular basis.

    According to the ILO this development may, in part, be attributed to the increasing commercialization of the private recruitment process and the growing practice among developed countries of applying unduly restrictive immigration policies.

    * Within this commercialization of the recruitment of migrant workers, a market has opened up for the smuggling and trafficking of migrant workers. Women and children are especially victimized; many are trafficked into conditions of slave labour and/or forced prostitution.

    * The ILO states that all categories of migrant workers are regularly subject to abusive, exploitative and discriminatory treatment in host countries. Application of human and labour rights norms to non-citizens is often inadequate in many countries, particularly as regards irregular migrants who have no authorization to enter or remain in the country.

    * From 1970 to 1990 the number of countries employing foreign labour has more than doubled from 42 to 90.

Growth of labour productivity worldwide

    * According to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimate global output continued to grow at a pace of 4.3 per cent during 2005. This was less than the 5.1 per cent increase in 2004.

    * Global labour productivity (measured as output per worker) rose by 2.6 per cent in 2005, down from 3.0 per cent in 2004.

    * Since 1995, global labour productivity has grown at an average annual rate of 2 per cent, while GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 3.8 per cent. As GDP growth is the sum of productivity growth and employment growth (or in simple words the additional output that is produced because people work more efficiently and because more people work) it becomes clear that over the last ten years growth was caused more because of a rise in productivity than because of a rise in employment.

Rates of unemployment

All figures refer to workers actively participating in the socialized economy as employed, underemployed or unemployed. The figures do not include those who are not looking for work for whatever reason and do not include those who work outside the official socialized economy.

    * The largest increase in unemployment, according to ILO figures, occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the number of unemployed rose by nearly 1.3 million and the unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percentage points between 2004 and 2005 to 7.7 per cent.

    * The Central and Eastern Europe (non-EU) and CIS region also witnessed a year-over-year increase in its unemployment rate, which stood at 9.7 per cent in 2005, up from 9.5 per cent in 2004.

    * In all Asian regions, unemployment rates stayed almost unchanged in 2005: East Asia's unemployment rate stood at 3.8 per cent, it thereby remains the lowest in the world; South Asia's unemployment rate stayed at 4.7 per cent, and South-East Asia and the Pacific's unemployment rate was 6.1 per cent.

    * At 13.2 per cent, Southwest Asia (Middle East) and North Africa continue to have the highest unemployment rate in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa's rate stood at 9.7 per cent.

    * The only considerable decrease was observable in what are called the Developed Economies and EU where the unemployment rate declined from 7.1 in 2004 to 6.7 in 2005.

    * In most of the countries outside the Triad, "employment" and "unemployment" are crude measures of the state of people's livelihoods and well-being. Those countries also often lack effective unemployment protection mechanisms.

    * Between 1995 and 2005 the global labour force (the sum of people employed, underemployed and unemployed) grew by some 438 million workers, or 16.8 per cent. During the same period, the global youth labour force (aged 15 to 24 years) grew by only 4 per cent and the labour force participation rate of youth declined by 4.8 percentage points to 54.1 per cent.

    Women in the paid labour force

    * According to the ILO, in 2005 women made up approximately 40 per cent of the world's paid labour force. Among women, the overall participation rate decreased over the last ten years due to the decline in labour force participation of young women.

    * This development differed by region: Southwest Asia (Middle East) and North Africa witnessed an increase of female participation from very low historical levels. An increase also occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    * Overall, the trend of increasing labour force participation rates among women in the 1980s and early 1990s has come to a halt in regions such as South-East Asia and South Asia, and has even reversed in Central and Eastern Europe (non-EU) and CIS, East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

    * Looking at the employment rate of men and women: while the share of employed adult males fell by 1.3 percentage points to 80.8 per cent, the share of the adult female population that was working grew. In 2005, 52.2 per cent of adult women were employed, compared with 51.7 per cent in 1995.

    * The textile and clothing (TC) sector is significant for employment, output and exports in a number of developing countries. A large percentage of workers in this sector are women. Since January 2005, with the phasing-out of quotas under the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA), the global TC sector is experiencing a major upheaval. The changes resulting from the new quota-free TC trade regime concern millions of workers and hundreds of thousands of enterprises in all countries. Given such a sectoral reshuffling and job losses in the textile industry, it is likely to be the most vulnerable people, in particular women, and the most vulnerable countries that are the hardest hit.

There has been a declining trend in global employment in the clothing sector -- from 14.5 million workers in 1990 to 13.0 million in 2000, partly as a result of a consolidation process of this production group and greater application of science and technology, especially modern machinery. Likewise, employment in textiles declined from 19.7 million workers in 1990 to 13.5 million in 2000. Despite the declines in persons employed in these sectors, the clothing and/or textile sectors maintain significance as one of the largest sources for employment.

Employment in the industrial, agricultural and service sectors

    * In 2005, the agriculture sector accounted for 40 per cent of total employment in the world. This means it still had the highest employment share of all three sectors with a total of 1.1 billion people working in the sector.

    * Agriculture continues to dominate in East Asia, South-East Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 60 per cent of the world's working-age population lives.

    * The overall share of agricultural employment has decreased over the ten years between 1995 and 2005 from 44.4 to 40.1 per cent. This decrease was seen in all regions except for East Asia, where the share in agriculture stayed stable over the period.

    * The industrial sector has grown over time in terms of total numbers of workers; there were 598 million people working in industry in 2005, a 16 per cent increase from ten years previous. Still, the share in total employment decreased from 21.1 to 21.0 per cent.

    * The share of employment in industry decreased considerably in the developed countries and countries of the EU, it changed only moderately in Central and Eastern Europe (non-EU) and CIS and in East Asia. On the other hand, the share in industry increased in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and in Southwest Asia and North Africa. In Central and South America and the Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa, the share in industry remained stable over time.

    * Employment in the service sector has changed the most over the last ten years. The share of total employment in services increased in all regions with one exception -- Southwest Asia and North Africa. It is said that if the service sector continues to grow the way it has over the last ten years, it will soon overtake agriculture as the largest provider of employment.

    * East Asia (where employment in China accounts for nearly 94 per cent of the region's total employment) saw the smallest changes in terms of sectoral distribution over time. Even though one would have expected big changes in the manufacturing sector in China, employment in new manufacturing export industries has grown, but this has been matched by a similarly rapid decline in jobs in the older state-owned manufacturing sector.

    * The shift from the agricultural to services sectors typically means the rural to urban migration of workers. This can also be a factor in downward pressure on the well-being of those workers who previously had land, in that the person loses access to land where food might be gathered and must henceforth rely on the market, and thus on earning a wage for sustenance. This is no simple matter for the very poor who might find themselves with no means of earning income from one day to the next.


(With files from ILO and IMF)





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