WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fifty-seven percent of adults worldwide said it was a bad time to find a job in their local communities last year, unchanged from 2011. One-third said it was a good time to find a job, also mirroring the 2011 figure.
Although global views toward the job market are unchanged from 2011, they remain better than in 2009 -- when only a quarter of the world's residents said it was a good time to find a job.
Recession-ravaged Europe remains the global epicenter of job market pessimism: 75% of Europeans said it was a bad time to find work in 2012, more than in any other region. The Americas continued to lead the world in job market optimism: 40% said it was a good time to find a job, and 54% said it was a bad time.
The former Soviet Union, as a region, saw the largest increase last year in the percentage of adults saying it was a good time to find work, with 27% saying this, up four points from the year before. For complete 2012 results for the 141 countries and areas surveyed, please see page 2.
Countries Where Residents Are Most Optimistic Share Some Economic Traits
Emerging markets led the world in job optimism in 2012, with residents of Saudi Arabia and Thailand, at 73% apiece, the most likely to say it was a good time to find a job. The optimism in Thailand came amid strong domestic demand last year, which bolstered the nation's economic performance.
For Saudi Arabia and other energy-rich countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Venezuela, and, to a lesser extent, Turkmenistan, historically high oil prices last year likely contributed to bright employment prospects.
Each of these 13 countries or regions performed relatively well economically in 2012; the average overall GDP growth rate for the countries -- excluding the Somaliland region, as GDP figures there are not available -- was an estimated 6.16%, as opposed to an estimated 2.13% global growth rate. All of these countries experienced at least 5% growth last year, except the relatively small country of Paraguay, whose economy actually contracted by an estimated 1.2%.
Most of these 13 countries also enjoyed large trade surpluses last year, particularly when scaled to GDP -- though here, too, exceptions arise: five countries, including Chile, Thailand, Panama, Paraguay, and Tajikistan ran trade deficits last year.
Lastly, many of the most job-optimistic nations had roaring equity markets in 2012. Of the 10 stock markets across the world that posted the highest returns in 2012, four -- the Philippines, Laos, Thailand, and Venezuela -- were in places where residents were among the most likely in the world to say now is a good time to find a job.
Job Pessimism Is Primarily a European Thing
European countries -- and those that use the euro in particular -- dominate the list of places where residents are most pessimistic about the job market. Greece, Italy, and Spain were among the worst places to find a job last year, according to their citizens.
In Greece, a country that saw its economy shrink a cumulative 20.1% between 2007 and 2012, residents were nearly unanimous in assessing job prospects as bad (98%). The percentage of Greeks saying it is a bad time to find a job has soared 30 points over that same time span. Greece's 2012 Payroll to Population rate was 20% -- one of the lowest of all developed countries.
Spain has suffered and continues to suffer from depression-like unemployment rates, so it is small surprise that 94% of residents considered it a bad time to find a job in 2012. Italy, weighed down by a massive debt load and a contracting economy, also had an astronomical percentage of its citizens, 95%, expressing job pessimism.
In addition, Ireland, Slovenia, and Portugal, all of which rank among the worst places to find a job, also use the euro, while Hungary, where 88% of its citizenry saw 2012 as a bad time to find a job, is a member of the European Union but maintains its own currency. Both economic units suffered tough times in 2012: GDP for the eurozone contracted by 0.5% and the European Union saw a contraction of 0.3%.
Furthermore, four other European countries -- Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Finland -- saw double-digit drops from 2011 in the percentage of residents saying it was a good time to find a job.
Notably, no country from Sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East/North Africa appears on the list of the worst countries to find a job, a rare occurrence over the seven-year history of this question. This does not signal uncommonly high job optimism in those areas, however; rather, it speaks to the depth of job pessimism haunting Europe.
World's Largest Economies Not Necessarily Best Place to Look for Jobs
The world's largest economies in 2012 remained mired in gloomy job perceptions, with a median of 27% saying it was a good time to find a job -- below the global average. In the U.S., the world's leading economy, fewer than three in 10 adults said it was a good time to find a job last year. Even China, which has experienced consistently high growth since the turn of the century, was upside-down on job-optimism -- 55% said it was a bad time to find work and 37% a good time.
Of the biggest economies, Brazil was the strongest performer on this measure, with 56% of its citizenry sanguine on job prospects, and Germany followed with 46% bullish. Here again, Europe's economic weakness is apparent: while Italy is the worst performing in terms of its being a bad time to find a job, the United Kingdom is close behind with 86%. France, meanwhile, had the single largest net change in 2012 of the major 10 economies: the percentage of its citizens saying now is a good time to find a job dropped to 16%, from 23% in 2011.
Job perceptions across the world did not improve in 2012, even as most countries continued to recover from the global financial crisis. Countries where residents were most optimistic about their ability to find work are largely resource-based economies that have the benefit of selling an always-in-demand product, such as oil. The world's largest or most advanced economies, on the other hand, are among the places residents are most pessimistic about the job market. In particular, job pessimism has blanketed nearly every part of Europe, the world's second-richest continent.
The World Bank recently cut its forecast for global economic growth in 2013 to 2.2%, an ominous sign for job optimism this year. Most countries will require economic growth well above the World Bank's forecast to see a noticeable improvement in their economy and in their residents' perceptions of the job market.
Job pessimism is both a contributing factor to and a result of this anemic economic growth. An obvious problem is that in this environment, the legions of un- and underemployed individuals will continue to struggle to secure a job. Another complication is that currently employed workers, believing that finding work will be difficult if not impossible, will be incentivized to remain at their current jobs, even if these are not occupations that use their strengths or engender high employee engagement. This in and of itself further impairs economic expansion, threatening to create a vicious cycle that policymakers must confront.
Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults per country, aged 15 and older, conducted in 141 countries and areas in 2012. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±1.6 percentage points to a high of ±5.6 percentage points.
The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.