Despite holidays, joblessness remains a challenge

The holiday season will bring a bump in employment as retailers put on extra salespeople.

There are some estimates of an increase of 10 percent in the workforce, but they may be over optimistic. Manpower Group, the employment agency, predicts a 4 percent increase in fourth quarter jobs and calls this the weakest increase since 2009.

Manpower surveyed 623 firms to obtain the employment expectations.  Just 10 percent said they would hire more individuals, and 5 percent said they would cut their workforces.

The unemployment rate is reported to be about 10 percent, but the Estado de Nación report put unemployment at 8.5 percent as a 2013 average.

The report that was just released also cited a progressive loss of dynamism of the so-called new economy that suggests an erosion of competitivity in certain sectors. The state of the nation report is the year-long work of four universities to help form public opinion and political policies.

The new economy is Costa Rica’s effort to move away from manufacturing. It includes free zones and the work for export there, service industries and non-traditional agricultural exports. The emphasis is on sustainability.

The Estado de Nación outlined profound changes in the country since the first report came out 20 years ago:

• Today the country has 44 persons, 34 minors and 10 seniors depending on the work of each 100 workers.

• About 14.5 percent of the workforce is not enrolled in the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social or pension programs even though affiliation with the Caja is at a record high.

• The number of homes with a female head of household has doubled from 17 percent in 1987 to an estimated 36 percent in 2013.

The central government has made two efforts to improve employment. As part of his rescue plan for the national economy, President Luis Guillermo Solís came forth with his national strategy for employment and production to increase the opportunities for women and men to obtain a decent job. The goal also is to reduce poverty and what is called inequality.

The decree said that some 200,000 Costa Ricans cannot find jobs and that 1 million more working substandard conditions, including illegally low wages and without Caja affiliation. The plan is to reduce unemployment to 7 percent by 2018.

In October Solís created the Consejo Presidencial de Competitividad, Innovación y Talento Humano.

Of the former, a leading business chamber said that employment is not generated by decrees but by policies that improve the business climate.

That was the opinion of the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, which was more optimistic about the Consejo.  The union of chambers presented Solís with 10 proposals to improve the business climate, including strengthening education.

Among other problems, the business sector is now struggling with the uncertainty of more taxes, something the Solís administration is expected to seek from lawmakers in the new year.

The president appears to have little choice because the nation has run up debts equal to more than 30 percent of the gross national product.

The business community would like to see less taxes, a reduction of paperwork, cheaper energy, a stable economy and better infrastructure, including roads.

The country has ruled out mining except for small-scale hard rock production and panning.

Lumbering requires a lot of paperwork, and much of the country is off limits to that industry. Petroleum drilling brings major protests from environmentalists.

Even major hydro projects and the proposed $1 billion container port at Moín draw protests and legal action, as does a proposal to generate electricity from underground heat in national parks.

The Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social has several programs for labor markets, including Empleate that tries to find spots for those 17 to 24 who are not in school and unemployed.working111714

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