This year’s issue of the Key Indicators of Developing Asian and Pacific Countries features a special chapter, Labor Markets in Asia: Promoting Full, Productive, and Decent Employment. In addition, it has eight statistical tables that compare the Millennium Development Goal indicators across the 42 developing member countries of the Asian Development Bank (ADB); 30 regional tables on key economic, financial, and social indicators; and 42 country tables, each with 8-year data series on population, labor force and employment, national accounts, production, energy, price indexes, money and banking, government finance, external trade, balance of payments, international reserves, exchange rates, and external indebtedness. The theme chapter, regional tables, and country tables with 18-year data series are also published on the ADB web site (http://www.adb.org/statistics).
The special chapter stresses that improving labor market opportunities for Asia’s workers is key to reducing poverty and improving standards of living in the region. This is because, regardless of whether they are self-employed or working for others, most of Asia’s workers sustain themselves and their families by using their labor. Understanding how labor markets in Asia operate and generate the outcomes they do is, therefore, of critical importance for policymakers in the region.
While some parts of Asia have done exceedingly well in terms of employing their labor forces productively and generating many good jobs, in many other parts of Asia labor markets continue to operate with considerable unemployment and underemployment among the labor force. Out of a total labor force of around 1.7 billion, at least 500 million are conservatively estimated to be unemployed or underemployed. At the same time, Asia’s labor force is a growing one. The challenge for Asia’s policymakers is, therefore, not only to create productive employment for those currently unemployed and underemployed, but also to strengthen the economies’ capacity to create productive employment to absorb a growing labor force.
A key message of this chapter is that governments across the region must accord maximum priority to promoting full, productive, and decent employment. To achieve the objective of full employment it will be necessary to ensure that the formal sector of the economy generates many more jobs than it has been doing and that the earning prospects of workers in the informal sector improve rapidly. The jobs generated must be productive. This is to avoid the temptation of using ultimately unsustainable solutions such as the creation of hundreds of unneeded jobs in, for example, state enterprises. Finally, governments will need to ensure that employment is decent: workers must be provided with basic rights and have recourse to systems of social protection. This is most critical in the informal sector where the absence of basic rights at work and inadequate protection from the many risks workers face are most pronounced.
Achieving these objectives will not be easy. A variety of growth-promoting policies will be critical if the objectives of full and productive employment are to be met. These will need to be complemented by policies to improve the quality of human capital and, in some cases, reforms to certain aspects of labor regulation. Ensuring that employment is decent will require providing basic rights to all workers and enforcing these, especially in the informal sector. It will also require that effective systems of social protection be put in place. Unless the policy agenda of the region’s economies is not geared to meeting the objectives of full, productive, and decent employment, it is easy to conceive a region, say 25 years from now, which despite growth, will still harbor most of the world’s poor.
We appreciate the cooperation of developing member country governments and international agencies in providing data to ADB and, in the process, enhancing this year’s issue of Key Indicators. We hope that the Key Indicators continues to be a valuable resource for monitoring the development in the region.