The 15 Highest Unemployment Rates in the World

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The global unemployment problem is so huge that the total number of jobless in the ten most populous nations in the world totals 1.1 billion. That is only slightly smaller than the population of China.

Macedonia's 33.8% unemployment rate is the world's highest. The figure is 65.2% when the disabled, those no longer looking for work, and the elderly are included. We looked at unemployment data for every nation with a population of two million or more. Accurate data are far less readily available for smaller nations. We reviewed information from the International Monetary Fund, the United Nation's International Labour Organization, and the CIA World Factbook. Perhaps surprisingly, the CIA data appears to be the most misleading, and often fails to account for the difference between unemployment rates versus the total number of those not working but of working age. The first thing likely to strike the reader is that most of the nations with high unemployment rates have fairly young governments. They were, usually, either colonies of larger countries or provinces of existing nations that have gained independence. The other observation, perhaps obvious, is that war-torn nations tend to have high unemployment rates, almost certainly because people are uprooted and infrastructure is upended as a result of the violence.

Country Total Population Total Unemployed Over 14
China 1,330,141,295 306,664,076
India 1,173,108,018 355,747,353
United States 310,232,863 100,753,706
Indonesia 242,968,342 67,382,896
Brazil 201,103,330 53,432,350
Pakistan 177,276,594 53,908,926
Bangladesh 158,065,841 34,502,612
Nigeria 152,217,341 42,040,299
Russian Federation 139,390,205 51,483,633
Japan 126,804,433 50,294,189
Total Unemployed 15 Or Older 1,116,210,039

One reason that it is particularly hard to quantify unemployment is the extent to which developing nations are agrarian economies. The U.S. economy was much different 100 years ago when more people worked on farms. That may be why the American unemployment rate is now defined as non-farm payrolls. The figure most economists use when talking about joblessness on a national scale is the unemployment rate, which can mean different things depending on which country or organization is reporting the statistic.

As it is used in the United States, "unemployment rate" means the percentage of the potential labor force that is currently out of work. The potential labor force, referred to by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics as the "civilian labor force," are people who are at least 16-years-old and actively seeking employment. What many fail to realize, however, is that this number does not include people who have given up looking for jobs, people who are working part-time that wish to work full-time (i.e., the underemployed) and people who will never look for a job. It also does not include those who are unable to work because they are physically or mentally disabled. As a result, the official U.S. unemployment rate - now 9.7% - can be misleading. The effect is multiplied when compared with the jobless rates of other nations, because there is no single standard for measuring unemployment around the world. Countries cite rates in markedly different ways. Some consider applicable job age to be younger than in the U.S. Others only measure urban areas to differentiate job seekers from subsistence farmers. These discrepancies present problems for an analysis of a county's "unemployment rate," and skew results.

The methodology that 24/7 Wall St. used to evaluate and define total unemployment includes: (1) identifying the 15 countries with the highest unemployment rates based on data collected by the United Nations's Yearbook of Labor Statistics, considered to be the best resource for nationally reported statistics; (2) evaluating the total number of people over 14 who are unemployed in each of these countries, based on the International Labour Office's Key Indicators of the Labour Market programme, a United Nations programme considered to be more accurate and comprehensive than the nationally reported data; (3) comparing these numbers to other sources, including the U.S. State Department, the IMF, the CIA Factbook, and Organization of Economic Co-operation; and (4) employing the United Nation's International Labour Organization's databases -- the Yearbook and KILM -- which provide the most consistent and complete set of data across the largest number of countries.

This analysis suggests that most countries fail to distinguish between the unemployment rate and the greater economic picture of their economies. Even the CIA World Factbook, which is easily the most widely referenced source for country information, often does not discriminate between unemployment as reported by countries and the total number of unemployed as represented by the International Labour Organization statistics. The number of unemployed over 14 is as much as 50% greater than the reported unemployment rate.

Unemployment rates as a standard for economic analysis are more complicated when considering the circumstances of each nation. War-torn regions with high displacement, areas with class inequities, gender discrimination, prevalence of disease or disability, inaccurate reporting or deliberately misleading information released as propaganda -- these factors can lead to inaccurate unemployment rates. In addition to job figures, the 24/7 Wall St. profile of each country includes per capita GDP, literacy rates, types of government, and the time these nations became sovereign bodies.




15) The Republic Of Burundi - Population: 9,863,117 - Unemployment Rate: 14% - % Unemployed over 14: 15.8% (950,607) - Per Capita GDP: $138 Burundi is in one of the last parts of Africa to be colonized by a European power, and was a Belgian colony for only 39 years, becoming independent in 1962. Brutal civil war between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups between 1993 and 2005 dramatically increased the poverty rate from 48% to 67%. Like several other countries with high unemployment, life expectancy, literacy rates and GDP Per Capita are much lower than most countries in the "developed world." Burundi ranks 167 out of 177 on the 2005 UNICEF Human Development Index, which measures a nation's infrastructure and relative standard of living.

14) The Tunisia Republic - Population: 10,589,125 - Unemployment Rate: 14.2% - % Unemployed Over 14: 59% (4,766,861) - Per Capita GDP: $8,020 Tunisia was a French colony and protectorate until 1956, when it gained independence. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been president of the republic, which effectively functions as a dictatorship, since 1987. Tunisia ranks 141st out of 167 on the Economist's Democracy Index, and is classified as an authoritarian regime.




13) The Republic Of Croatia - Population: 4,486,881 - Unemployment Rate: 14.8% - % Unemployed Over 14: 54.1% (2,056,010) - Per Capita GDP: $15,628 The region that is now known as Croatia was part of Yugoslavia until 1990, when it held its first independent elections. The Yugoslav wars decimated Croatia's economy in the early 90s and between 1989 and 1993, the nation's GDP fell 40.5%. Since the end of the conflicts, Croatia has stabilized and tourism has helped buoy the war-torn economy. Along with Macedonia and Turkey, the Balkan nation is a candidate for EU membership.


12) The Republic Of Yemen - Population: 23,485,361 - Unemployment Rate: 16.1% - % Unemployed Over 14: 61% (7,997,351) - Per Capita GDP: $870 The Republic of Yemen was formed in 1990 when the Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen joined. The nation is now a parliamentary republic under Ali Abdullah Saleh. Since its civil war in 1994, Yemen's industry has struggled. Recently, improved oil exports have helped strengthen the foundering economy.




11) Georgia - Population: 4,600,825 - Unemployment Rate: 16.5% - % Unemployed Over 14: 45.7% (1,208,982) - Per Capita GDP: $4,400 Georgia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Between gaining independence and forming a Democratic Republic in 1995, national GDP shrunk 70%. A civil war in the 1990s and a brief conflict with Russia in 2008 have hindered Georgia's economic growth.

10) The Republic Of Iraq - Population: 29,671,605 - Unemployment Rate: 17.5% - % Unemployed Over 14: 62.9% (10,936,776) - Per Capita GDP: $4,000 Iraq has been a parliamentary democracy since 2006 under Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Notwithstanding Saddam Hussein's decades long dictatorship, the Gulf War, and the current Iraq conflict have destroyed the country's infrastructure. Continuing violence is making rebuilding difficult. However, now that Iraq is no longer under trade sanctions imposed by the United Nations, it can develop additional sources of income to supplement the country's oil exports. This may improve employment rates as Iraq rebuilds. Currently, 23% of the population earn less than $2.20 per day.




9) The Republic Of Botswana - Population: 2,029,307 - Unemployment Rate: 17.6% - % Unemployed Over 14: 54% (726,532) - Per Capita GDP: $7,343 Botswana, a parliamentary republic, has been independent for more than 150 years. Relative to some of its neighbors, Botswana has had relatively steady economic success, largely due to its mining industry, which makes up 36% of real GDP. It is, according to several sources, one of the most stable African countries. HIV/AIDS, however, has decimated the south African nation and nearly 25% of its population is infected.




8 ) The Republic Of Colombia - Population: 44,205,307 - Unemployment Rate: 20.5% - % Unemployed Over 14: 34% (11,825,800) - Per Capita GDP: $4,661 After gaining its independence from Spain in the early 1800s, and, several failed attempts to form a nation, the Republic of Colombia was founded in 1886. Although the country has a democratic government, warring parties have battled each other for more than 40 years Since the 1980s, frequent skirmishes between the nation's drug cartels and the Colombian government have terrorized the population and destroyed infrastructure. In the past two decades, more than 3 million people have been displaced by violence. Since 2002, violence has subsided and attacks on the nation's infrastructure have decreased by 83%.



7) The Republic Of Namibia - Population: 2,128,307 - Unemployment Rate: 22% - % Unemployed Over 14: 57.1% (760,813) - Per Capita GDP: $4,135 Nambia was a German colony until 1915 when, following formation of the League of Nations, South Africa gained control of the country and imposed apartheid law. The country has operated as an independent parliamentary republic since 1990. About 35% of the population lives on less than $1/day and many rely on humanitarian food donations to survive. HIV/AIDS is a serious issue, and partly as a result, life expectancy decreased more than 10% between 1991 and 2001.




6) The Republic Of South Africa
- Population: 49,109,471 - Unemployment Rate: 22.9% - % Unemployed Over 14: 58.9% (20,016,283) - Per Capita GDP: $5,684 South Africa was under British rule until 1961, when it gained independence and adopted a parliamentary democracy. As current host of the World Cup, this data might very well have changed as the nation implemented significant transportation infrastructure and other facilities to accommodate the influx of fans into the country. South Africa is the African nation most affected by HIV/AIDS, with 5.5 million estimated cases.




5) Bosnia and Herzegovina - Population: 4,621,598 - Unemployment Rate: 23.4% - % Unemployed Over 14: 58.5% (2,279,164) - Per Capita GDP: $4,346 Bosnia and Herzegovina's war for independence ruined the national infrastructure and was part of one of the most brutal conflicts in the past 50 years. Prior to gaining independence in 1992, the country was part of Yugoslavia. Recently, UNICEF reports that its infrastructure has finally returned to pre-war status.




4) The West Bank and The Gaza Strip - Population: 2,514,845 - Unemployment Rate: 25.7% - % Unemployed Over 14: 69.8% (961,978) - Per Capita GDP: $2,900 The West Bank and Gaza Strip was part of Palestine until the United Nations divided the country to form Israel in 1948. The region is one of the most unstable in the world. Gaza is controlled by Hamas while its rival, the Palestinian Authority, rules the West Bank. Recently, Israel has put increased restrictions on trade in the region, weakening GDP and employment.




3) The People's Democratic Republic Of Algeria - Population: 34,586,184 - Unemployment Rate: 27.3% - % Unemployed Over 14: 50.7% (12,677,946) - Per Capita GDP: $6,900 Algeria was a French colony until it gained independence in 1962. The country was in violent conflict for nearly a decade after President Boudiaf was assassinated in 1992. Terrorism and armed conflict reigned through the beginning of the 2000's. The nation is slowly returning to stability.

2) The Republic Of Armenia
- Population: 2,966,802 - Unemployment Rate: 28.6% - % Unemployed Over 14: 61.9% (1,459,978) - Per Capita GDP: $6,310 The country gained independence as a nation in 1918, and from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since independence from the U.S.S.R., economic conditions have resulted in a very high emigration rate. Currently, at least 60% of ethnic Armenians live outside of the country. A trade blockade imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan as the result of a border dispute hinder Armenia's economy.




1) The Republic Of Macedonia - Population: 2,072,086 - Unemployment Rate: 33.8% - % Unemployed Over 14: 65.2% (1,102,416) - Per Capita GDP: $9,000 Like several of the other countries on this list, Macedonia was also part of Yugoslavia until 1991. While it missed most of the apocalyptic violence that engulfed the Balkans, the nation suffers from its own difficulties. Like the rest of the region, ethnic conflicts have brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war several times.

Michael B. Sauter, Ashley C. Allen, and Douglas A. McIntyre are editors of 24/7 Wall St.


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Douglas A. McIntyre and Michael B. Sauter are editors of 24/7 Wall St., a Delaware-based financial news and opinion operation that produces content for sites including MarketWatch, DailyFinance, Yahoo! Finance, and TheStreet.com.

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