[Industrialized countries] All industrialized countries have experienced rises in unemployment and the economically inactive over the past 20 years. The extent of regulation of the labour market and provision of welfare has not changed that, rather it has represented a social choice over how the shock of increased inactivity has been distributed. The more deregulated the labour market, the more unstable the pattern of employment, the more income inequality and social insecurity, and the more marginalized the unskilled male has become, with all the associated social consequences; the more regulated the market, the more the opposite holds. Both systems have suffered from a parallel fall-off in economic growth.
Unemployment shows no sign of declining in many industrial countries. Rising from its lowest level of under 2% in the late 1960s, European unemployment has remained about 10% since 1983; in 1993, 17.4 million were unemployed in the 12 countries of the European Community, or 10.3% of the workforce. In October 1999, there were 15.4 million people (9.1%) unemployed in the 15-nation European Union. The lowest level of unemployment was in Luxembourg (2.7%) and the Netherlands (3%), the highest in Spain (15.3%). All these figures are thought to understate the problem; many have settled for part-time work against their will or simply abandoned the hunt for a job as futile.
In 1999, some 63% of people of working age had a job in the European Union. The proportion would have to rise to 76% if all those who want a job could actually have it.
[Least developed countries] Per capita income growth was negative in most least developed countries during the 1980s and a heavy burden of external debt was accumulated. While economic growth stagnated, population and labour force growth has continued to be high. This has led to an increase in unemployment and underemployment. Unemployment along with increasing income inequality have contributed to the overall rise in poverty.
2. Everyone recognizes the reality and growing seriousness of this problem in the industrialized countries. While it is alarming in the developing countries, with their high rate of population growth and their large numbers of young people, in the countries of high economic development the sources of work seem to be shrinking, and thus the opportunities for employment are decreasing rather than increasing. This phenomenon too, with its series of negative consequences for individuals and for society, ranging from humiliation to the loss of that self respect which every man and woman should have, prompts us to question seriously the type of development which has been followed over the past twenty years. Here the words of the Encyclical Laborem Exercens are extremely appropriate: "It must be stressed that the constitutive element in this progress and also the most adequate way to verify it in a spirit of justice and peace, which the Church proclaims and for which she does not cease to pray...is the continual reappraisal of man's work, both in the aspect of its objective finality and in the aspect of the dignity of the subject of all work, that is to say, man." On the other hand, "we cannot fail to be struck by a disconcerting fact of immense proportions: the fact that...there are huge numbers of people who are unemployed...a fact that without any doubt demonstrates that both within the individual political communities and in their relationships on the continental and world level there is something wrong with the organization of work and employment, precisely at the most critical and socially most important points." (Papal Encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 30 December 1987).