Looking for jobs

As the US moves into recession, unemployment is expected again to spiral upward, perhaps reaching 8.5 percent or more by next spring. The US jobless rate for September was 7.5 percent. Meanwhile, high unemployment, particularly among youths, continues to beset the European industrial nations. It is also a challenge in the third world. But it is vital that nations and individuals recognize that solutions are available.

Clearly, the major industrial societies, if they are to ensure political and social stability, will have to confront the problem and do so imaginatively.

Some industrial nations, such as Canada and to an extent France, now are starting to address the issue. But policymakers in most Western nations have tended to view unemployment as but one facet of larger economic difficulties.

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What needs to be done? The first step, perhaps, is to put the problem in perspective by understanding these factors:

* The starting point, according to most economists, is to differentiate between unemployment in the Western industrial nations and the third-world or developing nations. To do that is not to slight or overlook third-world unemployment. But it is to recognize that the prosperity of developing economies is in great part determined by the prosperity of the industrial nations.

* According to the International Labor Office, the world labor force will soar by some 900 million people between the year 1980 and the year 2000. But most of that increase will come in the third world.

* In Europe and the US, the big increase in the worker pool will occur in the current period, through the mid-to-late 1980s, varying with individual countries and stemming largely from the postwar baby boom. The European work force alone will swell by close to 10 million people in the years from 1979 through 1985, compared to a population increase of only about 4.4 million people.

But as the baby boom generation is gradually absorbed into the work stream, a process occurring in the US somewhat ahead of most European nations, the growth in the job force will slow, until in some instances labor shortages will begin to appear in the mid- to late- 1980s. In the US, for example, the total employment force jumped by a 2.5 percent annual rate in the 1970s, largely a result of more women and young people seeking work. That rate is expected to drop to about 1.3 percent in the 1980s.

* Finally, a word about the statistics behind unemployment ''rates'' themselves. Many economists now believe that the way the rate is measured in Western nations actually overstates unemployment by counting in persons (such as some women and young people) who deliberately enter the work force for only short periods of time.

In all industrial nations, experts agree, job training remains paramount to end structural unemployment.

However, in the US the government has slashed programs such as CETA having this objective. Can industry on its own provide the funds and resources to hire and train minority young people who have unemployment rates often running as high as 45 to 50 percent, yet who are ''hidden'' within the unemployment stream in the sense that they make up only about one out of every 18 people looking for jobs? It would seem that government as well as industry is called on to help deal with such a difficult problem.

Also looking at short-term considerations, political leaders will have to ensure that interest rates do not remain so high over such a long period of time as to endanger smaller firms employing less than 100 workers or so. Most new jobs occur within these types of firms. Yet small-business bankruptcies are alarmingly on the rise.

Looking at the long term, such analysts as Kathleen Newland of Worldwatch suggest that industrial nations will have to ensure that more money is put into research and development projects; there must be more cooperation between labor, business, and government to reduce resistance to changes in technology. That in turn will make for higher productivity, which, as the experience of Japan shows, in the long run means more not fewer jobs; scarce investment dollars must be channeled to new- or high-technology firms where job creation is most likely to take place, as opposed to older declining industries such as steel and autos, where retrenchment seems inevitable.

Finally, more thought must be given to what is called ''work-life'' scheduling. In other words, by combining such proposals as shared work, flex-time, and occasional retraining programs, particularly in mid-life, there is no reason why jobs cannot be stretched to take in more people than is currently the case.

Other important steps: preventing protectionism, which curbs jobs by curtailing world trade, and ending unnecessary government regulations and excessive business taxes.

With wise planning, and firm resolution, unemployment need not be an insoluble problem.

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