Covid-19 sees more than 1 billion out of work globally

10 May 2021 4 min. read
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Just over 1 billion adults lost their jobs or businesses as a result of the Covid-19 recession. This toll was felt disproportionately among lower income countries, with several developing nations seeing over half of their workers lose their livelihoods.

While the Covid-19 pandemic is still a long way from being over, the work of surveying its damage has already begun. Over the last year, Gallup surveys in 117 countries and territories found that along with a public health crisis and more than 3 million deaths, the spread of the virus also relentlessly devastated people’s economic security.

At least some percentage of workers in all countries and territories stopped working temporarily, endured reduced hours or earned less than usual because of the pandemic – but many lost their work all together. At a global level, almost one-in-three people who had jobs at the start of the pandemic (32%) said they lost their job or business in the wake of the outbreak, meaning just over 1 billion adults are estimated to have been impacted in this way – however, according to Gallup, the rate at which individuals became jobless was not spread evenly internationally.

Percentage of Workers Who Lost Their Jobs During the Pandemic

People in lower-income countries with large informal economies suffered on the largest scale, as their governments were either unaware of their work being impacted, or unwilling to support them. In the case of eight low income countries, at least half of workers saw their jobs or businesses end due to the pandemic. Proportionally, the worst impact was seen in the Philippines and Kenya – both of which saw 64% of people lose work amid the crisis – however, due to its larger population, it was India which saw the most people lose their livelihood.

According to the researchers, 53% of working adults in India lost their source of income – or an estimated 400 million Indian workers. With India still enduring more than 400,000 new Covid-19 cases each day, this number will almost certainly have spiralled further, something which will greatly concern businesses around the world. India is the planet’s fifth largest economy, and contributes to global growth as a result. Since its economic performance has largely been due to it harnessing the power of its colossal workforce, the mass unemployment it now faces could jeopardise the world’s economic recovery.

Percentage of Workers Who Temporarily Stopped Working During the Pandemic

In stark contrast, the US – which has still hosted 10 million more coronavirus cases than India – was comparatively less impacted. There, Gallup found that 13% – or roughly 30 million people – had lost their jobs or businesses. While this suggests the US economy might have been less badly impacted, it is worth noting the rate of inequality in the world’s leading markets has grown substantially due to the crisis.

According to the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, the lowest-income group had the highest job loss rate between February 2020 and the end of June that year, while the highest-income workers had the lowest job loss rate during this period. Meanwhile, the Institute for Policy Studies found that the combined wealth of all US billionaires increased by 39% to $1.138 trillion between March 2020 and January 2021.

This was a pattern which was also repeated on a global scale, as extreme pandemic disparities are not unique to the US. From March to the end of 2020, global charity Oxfam reported that global billionaire wealth spiked by $3.9 trillion, while the International Labour Organization recently found that by contrast global workers’ combined earnings tumbled by $3.7 trillion.

Percentage of Workers Who Earned Less During the Pandemic

Gallup’s findings again suggest that this was most keenly felt in lower income economies. In 54 countries and areas, the majority of workers who were employed at the time of the survey said they took home less money than usual because of the coronavirus situation. While 75% in Bolivia found this to be the case, austerity measures imposed by the country’s now defunct coup government likely exacerbated this – while Myanmar’s instability that led to a coup earlier in 2021 will have similarly impacted it at the same rate. The worst hit nation for lower pay was Thailand, though.

Thailand saw 76% of workers see their pay fell during the pandemic. Alongside Bolivia, the same number also worked fewer hours during the pandemic, seeing them become the nations with the greatest reductions in hours during the crisis. In contrast, only 17% of workers in Sweden said their hours had been reduced.

Looking ahead, Gallup concluded, “At minimum, these results outline the scope of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on people's livelihoods around the world. Workers in all countries were affected to some degree, but particularly those in low-income countries will find recovery more difficult.”