"The world employment situation is alarming," said Claire Harasty, senior economist at the International Labor Organization, launching the 108-page Global Employment Trends report. "After two years of economic slowdown and delayed recovery we estimate that 180 million people are now unemployed worldwide."
The figure represents 6.5 percent of a total global labor force of 2.8 billion people, the ILO said.
The last report, in 2001, said the number out of work was 160 million — or 5.9 percent of a then 2.7-billion labor force.
ILO said many jobs also disappeared following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Some 10.5 million jobs were lost as the global travel and tourist industries slumped.
Harasty, who co-authored the ILO study, told reporters the sharpest rise in unemployment was in industrialized nations and Latin America.
The number of people unemployed in the European Union dipped in 2001 but rose again last year to 7.6 percent of the labor force, the report said. In the United States 5.6 percent were unemployed last year while in Canada the figure was 7.6 percent.
In Latin America average unemployment was 10 percent. In Argentina, hit hard by economic crisis, it reached a record 22 percent.
Harasty said the number unemployed in regions like Asia and the Middle East is harder to measure because official statistics often fail to reflect the reality of joblessness.
"In most developing countries people are not counted as unemployed because there is no unemployment benefit, so they just go into the informal economy, which usually absorbs people who lose their jobs," she said. "The informal sector plays a buffer role."
"But even if people are not openly unemployed, when there is a slowdown they get pushed even farther down below the poverty line."
The number of "working poor" — people, mainly in developing countries, who earn less than $1 a day — rose drastically, Harasty said. By the end of 2002 the figure reached 550 million, a level last seen during Asia's economic meltdown in the late 1990s.
"That means we have around 730 million people worldwide who are unemployed, underemployed or working poor," she said.
In many countries young people were most affected by unemployment, the report said. It noted that in the Middle East and North Africa some 25 percent of young people were out of work and that university graduates often find it impossible to land a job.
The ILO estimates that because of population growth 500 million new workers will be added to the global labor force over the next decade.
"Added to the some 500 million working poor, that means we need to create 1 billion productive jobs in the next decade," she said.
The increase in unemployment was likely to strain government budgets, said the report.
Solving the crisis requires both immediate and long-term steps, the ILO contends. In the short-term, it advises governments to take steps to stimulate the economy and encourage private businesses to hire more people.
Looking further down the road, the report suggests the world community — and individual countries — take steps to reduce countries' exposure to the vagaries of the integrated global economy.
That means creating social safety nets, diversified economies and better infrastructure in developing countries, and reducing rich countries' trade barriers.
In addition, the ILO feels countries must invest in education and create legal systems that protect workers' and women's rights.
"Only through pro-jobs and pro-poor policies can we address this growing employment crisis and place decent work at the heart of economic and social policies," ILO director-general Juan Somavia said in a written statement accompanying the report. "Faster economic growth is necessary, but it is not enough."