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Nearly 25 million jobs could be lost globally due to the coronavirus, UN labor organization estimates

A commuter wears a mask while walking across London Bridge into the City of London during the morning rush hour on March 18, 2020.

Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

The new coronavirus could claim up to 24.7 million jobs, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates.

The United Nations’ labor agency suggested this was a worst-case, or “high,” scenario of global unemployment but said internationally-coordinated policy response could mean a significantly lower impact. In this case, it estimated a “low” unemployment scenario of 5.3 million. It therefore calculated a “mid” scenario of 13 million jobs lost, 7.4 million of which would be in high-income countries.

Each scenario was calculated from a base level of 188 million people unemployed in 2019. 

The ILO warned that while these estimates remained “highly uncertain,” its estimates indicated a “substantial rise in unemployment.” 

By comparison, some 22 million jobs were lost around the world between 2008-9, during the global financial crisis. 

The estimates come as the outbreak of COVID-19 has forced countries to restrict the movement of citizens, and in some cases enforce lockdowns, causing a decline in global economic activity, particularly in the manufacturing and service sectors. 

The ILO pointed out in its note on the impact of the coronavirus on the labor market, that the total value added of industrial enterprises in China fell by 13.5% in the first two months of 2020 alone. 

Workers are expected to collectively lose between $860 billion and $3.4 trillion in labor as a result of increased unemployment. 

Additionally, the ILO said that the strain on income due to the decline in economic activity will “devastate” workers close to or below the poverty line. It calculated that there could be as many as 35 million more people in working poverty around the world than before the pre-coronavirus estimate for 2020. 

Guy Ryder, director general of the ILO, said that the coronavirus outbreak was no longer only a “global health crisis, it is also a major labor market and economic crisis.” 

“In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted. We need that kind of leadership and resolve now,” he added. 

The ILO’s recommendations for international policy response included worker protection measures such as encouraging appropriate flexible working arrangements, like teleworking. 

Central banks around the world are lowering interest rates, as part of emergency measures to support and stimulate the global economy. Meanwhile, governments have also been introducing financial packages to help buffer the impact of the coronavirus on workers and businesses.

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