Report for discussion at the Meeting of Experts on the Advancement of Employment and Unemployment Statistics (Geneva, 28 January–1 February 2013)

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“International Labour Office, (2013), Report for discussion at the Meeting of Experts on the Advancement of Employment and Unemployment Statistics (Geneva, 28 January–1 February 2013), World Economics Association (WEA) Conferences, No. 1 2013, The political economy of economic metrics, 28th January to 14th March, 2013”

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The current resolution concerning statistics of the economically active population, employment, unemployment and underemployment (13th ICLS 1982), is recognized worldwide. Official national statistics for these topics are largely based on these standards. Not only do the standards define who is to be counted as employed and as unemployed, they also set the scope of measurement linked to working conditions, quality of employment, access to employment, etc. In turn, the resulting statistics play a central role in informing the design, implementation and monitoring of a broad range of macroeconomic, labour market, income and related economic and social policies at the national level. They also facilitate cross-country comparisons of economic growth, productivity and competitiveness, the structure of labour markets and decent work. At the regional and international levels, these labour force statistics have increasingly been looked to in setting targets and assessing progress towards the achievement of agreed social and economic development goals, as their inclusion in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) testifies.

However, the employment and unemployment statistics produced according to these standards have increasingly been found to fall short of fully describing the world of work. Their usefulness in providing comprehensive measures to assess economic activity and to monitor changing labour markets and labour absorption has thus been limited. These statistics also shed little light on how households allocate their labour resources and on the subsequent impact on livelihoods and on well-being. Classic economic indicators such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and the unemployment rate on their own are now widely being questioned as to their sufficiency as headline measures of social progress, of living standards, and even of economic performance (Stiglitz, 2009). Furthermore, the adequacy of labour force statistics to describe the variety of work patterns across countries is seen to differ according to the level of development and the institutional context, as well as between rural and urban environments and among different population groups, particularly regarding the work patterns of women as compared to men.

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