Main statistics (annual) - Unemployment

Unemployment is defined as follows in the Resolution concerning statistics of the economically active population, employment, unemployment and underemployment, adopted by the Thirteenth International Conference of Labour Statisticians (Geneva, 1982):

(1) The "unemployed" comprise all persons above a specified age who during the reference period were:

"without work", i.e. were not in paid employment or self-employment, as defined in paragraph 9;
"currently available for work", i.e. were available for paid employment or self-employment during the reference period; and
"seeking work", i.e. had taken specific steps in a specified reference period to seek paid employment or self-employment. The specific steps may include registration at a public or private employment exchange; application to employers; checking at worksites, farms, factory gates, market or other assembly places; placing or answering newspaper advertisements; seeking assistance of friends or relatives; looking for land, building, machinery or equipment to establish own enterprise; arranging for financial resources; applying for permits and licences, etc.

(2) In situations where the conventional means of seeking work are of limited relevance, where the labour market is largely unorganized or of limited scope, where labour absorption is, at the time, inadequate, or where the labour force is largely self-employed, the standard definition of unemployment given in subparagraph (1) above may be applied by relaxing the criterion of seeking work.

(3) In the application of the criterion of current availability for work, especially in situations covered by subparagraph (2) above, appropriate tests should be developed to suit national circumstances. Such tests may be based on notions such as present desire for work and previous work experience, willingness to take up work for wage or salary on locally prevailing terms, or readiness to undertake self-employment activity given the necessary resources and facilities.

(4) Notwithstanding the criterion of seeking work embodied in the standard definition of unemployment, persons without work and currently available for work who had made arrangements to take up paid employment or undertake self-employment activity at a date subsequent to the reference period should be considered as unemployed.

(5) Persons temporarily absent from their jobs with no formal job attachment who were currently available for work and seeking work should also be regarded as unemployed in accordance with the standard definition of unemployment. Countries may, however, depending on national circumstances and policies, prefer to relax the seeking work criterion in the case of persons temporarily laid off. In such cases, persons temporarily laid off who were not seeking work but classified as unemployed should be identified as a separate subcategory.

(6) Students, homemakers and others mainly engaged in non-economic activities during the reference period who satisfy the criteria laid down in subparagraphs (1) and (2) above should be regarded as unemployed on the same basis as other categories of unemployed identified separately, where possible.

National definitions of unemployment may differ from the recommended international standard definition. The national definitions used vary from one country to another as regards inter alia age limits, reference periods, criteria for seeking work, treatment of persons temporarily laid off and of persons seeking work for the first time.

Differences between countries with regard to the treatment of unemployed persons with respect to classification by status in employment are particularly pronounced. In general, unemployed persons with previous job experience, classified according to their last job, are included with employees, but in some cases they and unemployed persons seeking their first job form the most important part of the group persons not classifiable by status.

The classification according to industry (main economic activity carried out where work is performed) is fundamentally different from that according to occupation (main type of duties performed). In the former, all persons working in a given establishment are classified under the same industry irrespective of their particular occupations. The latter, on the other hand, brings together individuals working in similar types of work, irrespective of where the work is performed. As indicated in the tables, most countries have supplied data on the basis of the International Standard Classifications of Industry, ISIC-68 or ISIC Rev.3 and International Standard Classification of Occupations, ISCO-68 or ISCO-88 (see Appendix).

Even when using international classification schemes (economic activity and occupation), national practices may also diverge concerning the classification of the unemployed with previous job experience, who are often included in the residual category of the international classification scheme, i.e. under activities not adequately defined (ISIC) or workers not classifiable by occupation (ISCO).

Intercountry comparisons are further hampered by the variety of types of source used to obtain information on unemployment and the differences in the scope and coverage of such sources. 1

In general, four main sources of unemployment statistics may be distinguished. These sources are identified in the tables by codes in parentheses to the right of the country name. These Codes (BA), (E), (FA), (FB) are described below:

Source (BA). Labour force sample surveys. These sample surveys generally yield comprehensive statistics on unemployment since, in particular, they include groups of persons who are often not covered in unemployment statistics obtained by other methods, particularly persons seeking work for the first time. Generally the definition of unemployment used for this type of statistics follows more closely the international recommendations and such statistics are more comparable internationally than those obtained from other sources. The percentages of unemployment are also generally more reliable since they are calculated by relating the estimated number of persons unemployed to the estimate of the total number of employed and unemployed (the labour force) derived from the same survey.

Source (E). Official estimates. These statistics are official estimates provided by national authorities and are usually based on combined information drawn from one or more of the other sources described here. However, as the data in tables 3A to 3E attest to, the prevalence of this source is decreasing due to the increasing existence of labour force surveys in countries throughout the world.

Source (FA). Social insurance statistics. The statistics from this source are drawn from the records of compulsory unemployment insurance schemes which, where they exist, as a rule have a broad industrial coverage related to wage earners and salaried employees or to wage earners only. Unemployment rates are computed by comparing the number of recipients of insurance benefits to the total number of insured persons covered by the schemes. However, the extent to which the numbers and percentages of unemployed reported are representative of the general level of unemployment in the countries with this type of source is difficult if not impossible to ascertain.

Source (FB). Employment office statistics. These statistics generally refer to the number of persons looking for work who are entered on the registers at the end of each month. In addition to persons without a job, they may include persons on strike, or temporarily ill and unable to work and persons engaged on unemployment relief projects. In principle, these statistics do not include persons who are already in employment whose coverage is identified in the tables as registered unemployment. However, some applicants are persons already in employment who are seeking a change of job or extra work who are also registered at employment offices. The coverage of these series is therefore identified in the tables as work applicants.

The value of the statistics from this source varies widely. In cases where the unemployment offices function in close connection with unemployment insurance, registration being a qualifying condition for the receipt of unemployment benefits, they are comparable in reliability to compulsory unemployment insurance statistics (source FA). Similarly, where employment offices operate in close connection with large unemployment relief schemes, they may also provide reasonably satisfactory figures during the currency of the schemes. However, where registration is entirely voluntary, and especially where the employment offices function only in the more populous, urban areas of a country or are not widely patronised by employees seeking work or by employers seeking workers, the data are generally very incomplete and do not give a reliable indication of the true extent of unemployment. The scope of the figures is determined partly by the manner in which the system of exchanges is organized and the advantages which registration brings, and partly by the extent to which workers are accustomed to register. In many cases persons engaged in agriculture and living in less populous areas are scarcely represented in the statistics, if at all. The scope of employment office statistics is therefore most difficult to ascertain, and in very few cases can satisfactory percentages of unemployment be calculated. In general, these statistics are not comparable from country to country. However, within a country, if there are no changes in legislation, administrative regulations and the like, fluctuations may reflect changes in the prevalence of registered unemployment over time.

Table 3A - Unemployment: General level

As far as possible, the statistics in this summary table are presented both in absolute numbers and in percentages. Unless otherwise indicated, the data are generally annual averages of monthly, quarterly or semi-annual data. The numbers indicate the size of the problem and the percentages (unemployment rates) illustrate the relative severity of unemployment. These rates are calculated by relating the number of persons in the given group who are unemployed during the reference period (usually a particular day or a given week) to the total of employed and unemployed persons in the group at the same date (see: labour force surveys). The percentages for series from other sources should be interpreted with due regard to the representativeness (see: social insurance and employment office statistics described above).

Table 3B - Unemployment, by age group

This table shows the age composition of the unemployed. Data by age group are presented according to five-year age groups as far as possible, with the minimum and maximum ages indicated. Countries vary in their national classifications, however, some using age based on year of birth or age rounded to nearest year, while others use age at last birthday. In comparing the unemployment totals shown in this table to those shown in other tables of Chapter 3, due regard should be given not only to differences in sources but also to reference periods. Often statistics by age are only collected at a fixed calendar period or on a specific date of the year and are not therefore annual averages of monthly, quarterly or semi-annual data.

Table 3C - Unemployment, by level of education

The unemployment series in this table are presented by sex and level of education, according to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) adopted by UNESCO in 1976.

In principle, the data should refer to the highest level of education completed, although many countriesí national classifications use criteria which differ from the recommended international practice (e.g. registration, attendance, diploma obtained).

Other factors of incomparability arise from differences in national educational programmes as concerns entrance requirements, normal duration of schooling, requirement of full or part-time attendance, actual programme content and competency or diploma acquired at each level of education.

It should also be noted that level of education and the workersí ability to become employed (employability) are not automatically connected. How well the bridge from the educational system over to the world of work functions varies among countries. Many workers may not be specifically trained for the duties they carry out. Imbalances between the training possibilities available to workers and the national labour marketís capacity to absorb them may also exist. The impact of continuous and on-the-job training which are not officially awarded any diploma is another factor difficult to measure. When relating the data presented in this table with the data on economically active population by level of education (Chapter 1, Table 1B), due note must be taken of differences in source, scope, coverage and reference periods.

Table 3D - Unemployment, by economic activity

This table provides absolute figures on the previous work experience of the unemployed by economic activity according to the International Standard Industrial Classification of all Economic Activities, ISIC-68 or to the latest revision ISIC Rev.3, or to both versions side by side, in cases where the latest revision of this international classification has been adopted during the 10-year time series covered in the Yearbook. For the coding of classification categories in this and the following tables, see explanatory text following Table 3E below.

Table 3E - Unemployment, by occupation

This table presents absolute figures on the previous work experience of the unemployed by occupation according to the International Standard Classification of Occupations, ISCO-68 or the latest revision ISCO-88, or to both versions side by side, in cases where the latest revision of this international classification has been adopted during the 10-year time series covered in the Yearbook.

In conformity with the international recommendations, unemployed persons with previous work experience are classified by industry or occupation in the two above tables on the basis of their last activity (under numerical codes according to the relevant category of the classification scheme presented). Unemployed persons without previous work experience are shown separately (under code UB) as far as possible, in order to distinguish them from unemployed persons with previous work experience classified under activities not adequately defined in ISIC or workers not classifiable by occupation in ISCO (under code X).

All of the data presented in Chapter 3 should in principle be annual averages and relate to the whole country. Nonetheless many exceptions exist. Further information concerning divergences in scope or coverage of the series is contained in the tables themselves and their footnotes.


1 For information on the differences in scope, definitions and methods of calculation, etc., used for the various national series, see ILO: Sources and Methods: Labour Statistics (formerly Statistical Sources and Methods), Vol. 3: "Economically active population, employment, unemployment and hours of work (household surveys)", third edition (Geneva, 2004); Vol. 4: "Employment, unemployment, wages and hours of work (administrative records and related sources)" (Geneva, 2004).