Asia needs more high quality jobs to maintain growth

Asian Development Bank encouraging increased mobility, support for non-farm sector
By Kevin Lim
||Last Updated: 08/23/2011

SINGAPORE (Reuters) — Developing Asia needs to create more high quality jobs if the region is to sustain the rapid economic expansion seen over the past two decades, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"Asia has outstripped other regions in growth and employment creation since 1990," ADB chief economist Changyong Rhee said at a press conference in Singapore. But "Asia still remains home to most of the world's poor."

"I don't want to downplay the importance of economic growth, but on the quality job front, progress has been less impressive," he said.

Citing figures compiled by the Manila-based development bank, Rhee said the two-thirds of workers in developing Asia, which excludes Japan, were employed in the informal sector in 2008, little changed from 1990.

In India, the proportion of informal workers rose to 82 per cent of the workforce, from 80 per cent between 1991 and 2008. However, Thailand's percentage of informal workers dropped to 54 per cent in 2008 from 70 per cent in 1990, while Malaysia saw a drop to 22 perc ent from 31 per cent over the same period.

In contrast, informal workers made up 12 per cent of the workforce in developing Europe in 2008, and 33 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean region.

ADB said informal work is usually a sign of underemployment and lower incomes as well as the absence of social safety nets.

The bank urged low-income Asian countries to make it easier for workers to move from rural to urban areas in search of higher-paying jobs, as well as support activities to increase productivity in the rural non-farm sector.

It also recommended extending basic levels of social protection to informal workers.

Looking ahead, Rhee said Asia will be able to ride out the slowdown in the United States and Europe so long as there's no repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

"We believe that Asian economic growth at this moment is robust and resilient enough to cope with a slowdown in the advanced economies unless this becomes a full-blown crisis which is very unlikely," he said.

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