World governments must not let their focus on spending cuts keep them from creating jobs that will be a key part of economic recovery, an international group of experts warned on Monday.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Labor Organization say government support for the unemployed _ both with subsidies and job training _ is vital since long-term joblessness is particularly intractable.
The employment ministers of the Group of 20 leading economies were meeting Monday and Tuesday in Paris to discuss the situation. But the agencies' call to spend more money _ even on job creation _ could have difficulty gaining traction in the current climate of budget cuts.
Many countries, especially in Europe, are being forced to slash their budgets to win back the confidence of investors, who are concerned that deficits and debts are out of control. Greece, for example, is teetering on the brink of default because it can't afford to pay its bills while also paying down its debts.
Public sector payrolls have been slashed savagely and economic uncertainty is keeping businesses from hiring.
Maurizio Sacconi, Italy's labor minister, said at Monday's meeting that governments have to "stimulate growth with employment because we are aware of the danger of a jobless recovery, of jobless growth."
The bind the most indebted countries like Greece find themselves in is that they have little or no money to spend. They need to cut costs or raise taxes or both to pay down debts, but will never pay them down sufficiently if growth doesn't increase.
But as the global economic slowdown intensifies, unemployment has risen on governments' lists of concerns.
Currently, 200 million people are out of work worldwide _ a figure that approaches the worst depths of the recession _ according to the ILO and the OECD, the Paris-based watchdog for the world's most developed economies.
The two groups say slow growth since the 2008 crisis has resulted in a shortfall of 20 million jobs in the G-20 countries. If average employment growth slips just two-tenths of a percentage point more _ to 0.8 percent _ that figure could grow to 40 million by 2015.
By contrast, those economies taken together would need an average of 1.3 percent employment growth over the next three years to absorb that 20 million.
"This is the human face of the crisis," the heads of the two organizations said in a letter to the G-20 employment ministers on Monday. "Governments cannot ignore it."
The ministers are expected to release a statement laying out their commitments at the end of their meeting on Tuesday.
The economic figures _ and the sometimes violent protests by people resisting cuts _ are beginning to change government priorities. Politicians in several countries, including Greece and Spain _ with 16 and 21 percent unemployment, respectively _ are agitating for an increased focus on job-creation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy emphasized in a speech later Monday that employment "must be at the heart of our priorities."
However, he added, fundamental rights must be respected in G20 countries.
"Protection for the weakest must be an imperative," the French president said, adding that G20 nations who also are members of the International Labor Organization should ratify the eight ILO conventions on fundamental rights that notably forbid child labor and call for gender equality.
Sarkozy said he would like to see the ILO gain observer status at the World Trade Organization.
How to create jobs is a topic of much debate. Some say governments should steer clear of spending money to boost employment but only create a good climate for businesses.
"That means reduce the regulatory pressure, the fiscal pressure that weighs on companies in terms of hiring," said Marc Touati, the chief economist at investment company Assya. It's not a just a matter of cutting spending, he said, but also rethinking spending.
The OECD and ILO insist that while austerity may be necessary, governments have a role in creating jobs.
"For those countries where there is some fiscal space, our message will be, use it," Stefano Scarpetta, the leading employment expert at the OECD, told reporters on Monday. "For those countries where the fiscal space is very limited, try to create this fiscal space."
He conceded that countries do need to reduce their budgets, but said money must be found to give businesses the confidence to hire. He praised in particular to the Obama administration's plan to cut payroll taxes for employers who take on new workers.
Without those incentives, he said that even companies in good financial standing would stay on the sidelines, waiting to see if the economy is starting to grow before hiring.
The danger is that a vicious cycle might ensue. The economy won't grow in a meaningful way until hiring picks up, but hiring is unlikely to pick up until employers feel the economy is going to start growing.
Scarpetta says the G-20 has to find a way to give businesses that confidence.
"Our concerns about the labor market situation have, if anything, become even more serious" in recent weeks, said Scarpetta.
Jeffrey Schaeffer and Cecile Brisson in Paris contributed to this report.
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