THE Group of Seven (G-7) industrial nations ended an unprecedented two-day international jobs conference Tuesday by declaring that it has for the first time made unemployment a top item on its agenda.
The G-7 ``is opening a brand new chapter by focusing on the one economic issue of most importance to the peoples of all the nations represented at this conference: how to create high-wage jobs,'' United States Vice President Al Gore Jr. told a press conference Tuesday.
Rather than just monitor the performance and management of its economies, the group has said it will discuss the structures of its economies as well, according to officials at the conference.
``This will be looked back upon, I am convinced, as one of the most important turning points in the post-war dialogue between the United States and the other industrialized nations,'' Mr. Gore said.
Finance, labor, and economics ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the US stressed the need to accelerate the diffusion of technology and to train workers for high-tech jobs. More than 10 percent of the work force in Canada, France, Italy, and Britain is jobless.
But the G-7 member states did not agree on specific programs to reduce the ranks of unemployed workers. G-7 leaders say they will take up the issue in Naples, Italy, at their annual meeting in July.
The government officials rallied around one point: the high returns of sparking the growth of emerging enterprises. ``It [is] clear that small and medium-sized companies need to be encouraged because of their potential for creating jobs,'' US Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said in a statement summarizing the two-day conference. This sentiment was echoed by the other delegates.
``The great bulk of jobs are going to come from small and medium-sized companies involving the new technologies that have a tremendous capacity to create new employment,'' said Canadian Minister for Human Resources Lloyd Axworthy. Over the last decade, 87 percent of all new jobs in Canada were provided by companies with fewer than 100 employees, a figure similar to the US.
US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown quoted findings of a recent government report indicating that small companies are a favorable force in the severe ``churning'' of the US economy and its labor market. The US has lost a portion of its traditional manufacturing jobs most years for the past 15 years. Yet, small entrepreneurial companies expanded an average of 9 percent each year over the same period, Secretary Brown said.
In the US, employment ``opportunity will be in small companies which oftentimes tend to be more dynamic, more innovative, more ready to embrace change, take risks, to develop a new relationship with their work force,'' Brown said.
During the conference, delegates shared their experiences in nurturing small businesses. Canada, for example, has put people to work by encouraging self-employment, which now represents 7 percent of all jobs in that country. The Canadian government offers welfare recipients training in entrepreneurship and some funding to help them operate new small businesses. About 73 percent of out-of-work Canadians who became self-employed have held their jobs for at least two years.
In Britain, government programs have boosted the number of self-employed workers from 7.5 percent of the work force in 1979 to 11 percent today. About 650,000 British citizens have joined the government self-employment program.
The enthusiasm for emerging enterprises was echoed by those on the front lines of US efforts to curtail chronic unemployment.
``Small businesses have a very, very strong place in our growth and development,'' said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.
Since taking office in January, the mayor has instituted a ``one-stop shop'' government office that handles all licensing applications for small enterprises.