London — The United States is experiencing record levels of postwar unemployment. But it is far from alone. The following story looks at joblessness around the world.m
''And what are you going to do when you leave school?'' parliamentary candidate Harriet Harmon asked a 16-year-old boy in his final year in blue-collar Peckham, South London, the other day.
''I'm going to be unemployed,'' the boy said sadly.
Friends nodded. All had relatives or neighbors out of work for a year or more.
The shadow of unemployment darkens - not just across Britain, not just in the United States, but around the globe.
In all of Western Europe, the Common Market estimated just under 11 million people out of work in August (the latest available figures) or almost 10 percent of the work force.
Five European countries had rates higher than America's - Italy (10.4 percent), the Netherlands (10.5), Belgium (14.6), Britain (12.8), and Ireland ( 13.2). These are adjusted figures, which means they omit those leaving school in the summer and other seasonal factors. Raw figures are far higher.
The respected Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris put the Europe-wide jobless figure at 14.5 million at the end of last year , and sees it going to at least 16.5 million by the end of 1982. Britain's actual figure was 14 percent, or 3.34 million. For the first time ever, more than 3 million British adults were jobless.
Moreover, experts contacted by the Monitor in Geneva, Paris, Brussels, and London agree that, for the foreseeable future, the shadow will lengthen, rather than recede.
The reason they give is that oil price rises in the 1970s fueled rising inflation and caused government after government in North America and Europe to cut back spending, reduce demand, and try to buy less from outside.
Meanwhile, social security ''safety nets,'' erected earlier, cost more and more. Unemployment relief bills are huge.
It has taken time for the effect to accumulate. But now, trading nations find their customers much less ready to buy while trying much harder to sell.
Many experts fear a wholesale return to protectionism - erecting barriers against other people's goods. Ultimately this could choke world trade - and keep millions of people out of work even longer.
Even as the Monitor survey was in progress, the secretary-general of the OECD , whose 24 members comprise Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, was ringing warning bells to the Council of Europe.
''The prospect for an early reversal of the rising trend in unemployment in many countries is poor, especially in Europe,'' said Emile Van Lennep Oct. 5.
''Our July forecast showed European employment continuing to rise to 17 1/2 million by the end of l983. But more recent indicators suggest that European unemployment is rising somewhat faster than foreseen. . . . This is a sombre picture. . . .''
Even Japan is anxious. Its unemployment is pushing higher (up to 2.5 percent today). Australia and New Zealand are suffering.
And across the third world, according to figures compiled by the International Labor Organization office in Geneva, both oil states and non-oil states have begun to slow down sharply, and see more go out of work, as their richer customers in Europe and America cut back on cash and demand.
''You can see the straws in the wind,'' said a senior Common Market official in a telephone interview from Brussels.
''Look at the [West] Germans, for instance. Since the oil price rises of the last decade, Germany has led the way in Europe by keeping inflation low and employment high, and riding a boom in exports to the rest of the world. But now Bonn finds its customers buying less and less as the world recession widens.''
The West German economy is slowing. In September, its (adjusted) jobless rate reached 7.5 percent, for a total of 1.82 million unemployed.
In Scotland, the stampede for each job vacancy is so great that many workers have had 50 or more interviews without success in recent months.
One answer to global unemployment is an upsurge in world trade - for Europe and North America to produce more and sell more, both at home and abroad.
Unless they do, the third world cannot fully recover. Latin American unemployment is up this year. East and South Asia are developing economic problems. The International Monetary Fund has reduced its 1982 growth forecasts for non-oil states sharply.
Yet Common Market forecasts are for zero economic growth in Europe next year.
In the search for answers, meantime, the richer countries have two choices, according to experts in Geneva and Brussels.
They can keep on giving priority to lowering inflation, as Margaret Thatcher's government is doing in Britain. Or they can pump more government spending into economies to try to create jobs, as the French Socialist government has shown signs of trying to do in the last year.
Neither way is a panacea. Emphasizing exports, as West Germany has done, is harder now that customers are cutting back. Even countries relatively isolated from world trade are seeing economies stagnate.
Italy is one country showing that small, adaptable businesses and cottage industries can weather the storm surprisingly well, even though Italian unemployment is well over 10 percent.
At the moment, most industrial states want to tackle inflation first, believing that jobs will follow automatically. The majority of OECD members think this way.
The dilemma for the Thatcher government in Britain is that unemployment is stubbornly high, and going higher, even while inflation falls to 7 percent.
The government has 543,000 young people enrolled in eight major job-training and job-creating programs. As they leave the programs - after a few months, a year, or two years - they go back to being out of work.
The latest effort is to put 130,000 young people to work renovating disused buildings, insulating attics, making new urban parks, gardening for the aged and disabled, and tackling other community needs.
But many school leavers say the programs are dead-end make-work substitutes, and shun them.
Of the 70 million young people in the 24 OECD countries, one out of every five was forecast to be unemployed next year.
A Common Market authority says, ''Lower wages and less government spending by themselves don't end unemployment or produce a spontaneous recovery.
''Nor does more government spending by itself give the answers.
''The world economy is complex, interdependent. Europe trades together now, but hasn't learned the lesson that it needs to manage its economies together. No one country can pull out of the recession on its own. It's a joint affair.
''We are headed for an extremely rough time just ahead. The Common Market will lose momentum as nations resort to protectionism.''