Defining unemployment is not simple, and becomes extremely problematic when it comes to developing countries. Three types of unemployment, which overlap to some degree, have been recognized: (1) those actively seeking employment; (2) those without work but available for and actively seeking it; (3) those available for work but who have become so discouraged that they have given up looking.
In 1994 it was estimated by the ILO that 30% of the world's labour force, namely 820 million people, were currently unemployed or under-employed. For the first time since the 1930s the industrial countries, as well as developing countries, were facing long-term, persistent unemployment. The number of officially registered unemployed numbered 120 million, although the real numbers, including those who never registered or who had stopped looking for work, were considered as almost certainly higher. In addition, some 700 million were underemployed, namely engaged in a level of economic activity that did not permit them to reach a minimum standard of living.
Unemployment constitutes a heavy social cost and contributes to a resurgence of protectionism. Political tension associated with high unemployment may also account for the reluctance of industrialized countries to expand their aid programmes.
Most of the so-called unemployed in developing countries in fact work extremely long hours (10-15 per day, 6 to 7 days per week) in the informal sector. The issue is rather that they are paid extremely low wages.