122 Int'l Lab. Rev. 137 (1983)
The Notion of Structural Unemployment

handle is hein.journals/intlr122 and id is 151 raw text is: International Labour Review, Vol. 122, No. 2, March-April 1983

The notion of structural unemployment
Guy STANDING*
I. Introduction
What is most remarkable about current levels of unemployment is the
relative equanimity with which they are viewed by governments, unions, the
media and the general public. If the Great Depression had analogies with the
First World War perhaps the present crisis should be described as the Second
World Depression, for arguably its global scale has had no historical parallel.
The anguish of the unemployed and their families is evident, the despair
widespread and the anger liable to erupt from time to time in various spots of
particular distress. Yet overall there is a surprising complacency, a feeling
that the hardship is not only bearable but in some ill-defined way necessary,
coupled with official faith that the problem is structural , requiring long-
term solutions outside the gamut of Keynesian manipulation of aggregate
demand, which itself is seen by many as merely fuelling inflation.
Many governments in industrialised countries no longer seem committed
to  full employment or feel bound to reflate when unemployment reaches a
certain level. A sense of inevitability has induced an attitude of resignation.
But if many of the unemployed or those threatened by unemployment were
to realise that unemployment is seen in some quarters as an opportunity for
restructuring the economic system and reversing trends towards greater
equality of wealth and power, the calm might be rudely shaken.
It is in that context that economists must address the claim that much of
the current unemployment is structural and a reflection of a newly realised
inability to achieve full employment levels of unemployment. But before
the nature of the unemployment can be assessed, the concepts underlying the
claims and counterclaims should be clearly defined. Too often commentators
have escaped with vague references to structural unemployment when, as the
following attempts to show, the term can have various meanings, most
involving assumptions that are commonly overlooked. While not questioning
the possible existence of structural unemployment, this article will argue that
if the term is used it should be clearly defined and the assumptions explicitly
recognised.
* International Labour Office.

Copyright © International Labour Organisation 1983

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