Thursday, September 2, 2010

Colombia's unemployment problem

Underreported by English language media (I wonder why?) was this week's unemployment report from Colombia's DANE stats office (sidebar: DANE is one of the very few gov't run stats offices in South America that gives out unbiased, statistically solid reliable data and has not buckled under the pressures to manipulate data from gov't circles, as so obvious in places like Argentina and Peru). The 12.6% unemployment rate announced was a full percentage point up from the June figure and means there are some 2.7m Colombians out of work right now.

Not a good start for President Santos, who made job creation one of the mainstays in his recent election campaign. In fact, his repeated "More Jobs" mantra that started when up against poll pressure from Mockus and became the central theme of his succesfully retooled campaign far outweighed any talk about anti-terrorism, human rights and all the things we gringos wring our hands about when it comes to Colombia. Even in South America it's the economy, stupid.

So Santos, who promised to created up to 2.5 million new jobs and make half a million informal jobs official during his 2010-2014 mandate, gets his cold bucket of reality that's made even icier when the 34.2% underemployed rate is added to the mix. That's a lot of people not putting in a full day's work, people. But as the chart above shows, he's up against an unemployment issue that's long ingrained into Colombia's economy. The current 12.6% jobless rate may be high but it's not unusual either in a country that has rarely seen a sub 10% level (and never for any significant period of time).

Finally, it's worth reflecting that fighting unemployment is one of the best ways of fighting terrorism, too. Those 12% jobless are fodder for the paramilitary and FARC who can offer them food, lodgings and even salaries in exchange for shooting up villages and extorting businesses.