San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica’s Unemployment Lowest in Latin America

Costa Rica has broken a 10-year jobless rate that hovered around 6%, dropping to 4.8% last year, a United Nations agency reported.
Released Monday, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 150-page regional “Labour Panorama” report crowned Costa Rica with the lowest unemployment rate in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Costa Rica’s (economic) performance stands out among Central American countries and the rest of Latin America,” said Leonardo Ferreira, employment specialist for ILO’s San José-based Sub-Regional Office for Central America, Haiti, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
He went on to cite this country’s recent success: 6.3% economic growth – well above the Latin American average of 5.5%.
“This, of course, has had a positive effect on employment,” Ferreira said, calling Costa Rica’s low joblessness number “an outstanding figure.”
Income among employed workers rose by 9.3% in 2007 and the majority – 73% – of posts held in 2007 were “quality” and “salary” jobs, he added, as opposed to freelance work or jobs with precarious conditions.
The ILO could not give figures on jobs in Costa Rica’s underground economy, as these are only available for a few countries, including Mexico.
Perhaps more outstanding, this country’s unemployment rate has dipped below Mexico’s urban unemployment of 4.9%, which actually rose slightly from 4.6% in 2006.
Costa Rica‘s unemployment rate is also lower than that of the United States, 5% as of December, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The U.N. employment agency’s index covers up to September.
The study’s scope encompasses 19 Latin American countries and five island nations of the Caribbean. The employment specialist said ILO, which was founded in 1919 and became the United Nation’s first specialized agency in 1945, would like to cover as many countries as possible. In reality, he added, it focuses mostly on “urban unemployment,” citing difficulties in gathering data on much of Latin America’s rural workers. Such figures were available for Costa Rica so the 4.8% rate doesn’t just reflect San José but the whole country, he said.
Other Latin American nations didn’t fare so well on ILO’s index. Chile’s rate is 7.1%, Argentina’s 9.2%, Panama’s 7.7% and Colombia’s 12%, the highest on the continent.
The good news is they all registered lower than previous years. (Please see accompanying box.) Ferreira, however, pointed to areas in the breakdown that could use improvement.
Despite this country’s employment rise on the whole, Costa Rican women still had a higher level of jobless, 6.8%, double that of men, at 3.4%.
This should tell the nation’s policy makers to create and allow access to better work opportunities for women, he said.
The latest rate came more than two months after President Oscar Arias announced the country had experienced the greatest drop in the number of families living in poverty in 13 years, from 20.2% to 16.7% (TT, Nov. 9).
Furthermore, jobs are abounding to the extent that, according to a survey by multinational human resource company Manpower, an increasing shortage in the workforce means a third of the country’s business intend to hire this quarter (TT, Jan. 25).
More Latinos Working
The ranks of the unemployed fell virtually across the board, according to the ILO’s annual Latin America and Caribbean report.
Panama’s jobless number shrank to 7.7% from 10.4%, Argentina to 8.8% from 10.7%, Uruguay 10% from 11.9%, Venezuela 9% from 10.5%, Chile 7.1% from 8.4%, Colombia 12% from 13.2%, Jamaica 10.2% from 11.4%, Costa Rica 4.8% from 6%, and Honduras 4.1% from 5.2%.
Other minor decreases were seen in Barbados 7.9% from 8.7%, Trinidad and Tobago 6.3% from 7%, Brazil 9.7% from 10.2%, Ecuador 9.8% from 10.3%, and Peru 8.7% from 8.8%.
Mexico‘s jobless rate increased to 4.9% from 4.6% in cities, and 3.8% from 3.6% nationwide.

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