Thailand reports highest unemployment since 2009 crisis

Unemployment in the first quarter of 2021 jumped to around 758,000, the highest since the pandemic started, according to state economists.

Danucha Pichayanan, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council, on Monday unveiled the alarming surge between January and March, which ended with jobless rate at 1.96%, just shy of its last high of 2.08% in 2009 in the wake of the global financial meltdown. It was up from the 1.86% unemployment level at the close of 2020.

Productivity also fell 1.8% from the same period last year to an average of 40.1 hours per week, according to Danucha.

One of the hardest-hit sectors is tourism, which comprised about one-fifth of the economy before the pandemic started. The borders have been closed to most travel since March 2020. According to the Thai Hotels Association, one million hotel workers were laid off in 2020 alone. The continued impact on tourism will affect approximately 7 million workers in the tourism sector, Danucha said.

One positive note was rising employment in agriculture, which ticked up 0.4%. 

It’s a significant high for a country that has famously recorded levels below 1% due to overemployment in the service sector, but the pandemic has taken its toll.

After weathering a second-wave outbreak from December to February that had fallen to a simmer in March, Thailand’s third wave rippled from the capital’s nightlife scene in April. Fueled by the arrival of more easily transmissible mutations of the coronavirus, the country slid into its worst days yet, with thousands of infections and dozens of deaths reported daily. The trend line is steadily rising and new outbreaks are rapidly emerging, leading health officials to seal off entire populations of laborer populations.

Danucha said the current outbreak has triggered more job cuts and reduced working hours. Meanwhile, there are reduced employment opportunities for new graduates. This year, 490,000 new grads are expected to hit the job market.

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