8.8 percent of global working hours were lost in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic closed workplaces and entire economies, according to the latest estimates by the International Labor Organization. This is the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs—four times as many as were lost during the global financial crisis in 2009.
As reported in the ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work, approximately half the working hour losses came from actual job losses, amounting to 114 million people put out of work—more than the entire population of any Southeast Asian country other than Indonesia. And out of those 114 million people, only 33 million continued looking for work. The other 81 million—more than the population of most countries in the world—simply dropped out of the labor market altogether.
Between the job losses and the working hour reductions for those still employed, the world saw an 8.3 percent decline in global labor income last year, estimated at US$3.7 trillion—more than the GDP of any economy in the world except the four largest.
The ILO said that the job and income losses were very disproportionate by demographics and by sector. Far more women than men dropped out of the labor force; far more young people under the age of 24 lost their jobs than older workers; low and medium-skilled workers lost far more income than the higher-skilled—a divergence which the ILO warns is likely to increase inequality within any given country.
In the report, the ILO urges policymakers to focus on making the economic recovery inclusive and sustainable, especially in terms of offering support to the hardest-hit groups and ensuring that workers and smaller enterprises are able to make the transition to the changed labor market. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said: “We are at a fork in the road. One path leads to an uneven, unsustainable, recovery with growing inequality and instability, and the prospect of more crises. The other focuses on a human-centred recovery for building back better, prioritizing employment, income and social protection, workers’ rights and social dialogue. If we want a lasting, sustainable and inclusive recovery, this is the path policy-makers must commit to.”