Why Thailand's unemployment rate is ridiculously low

Why Thailand's unemployment rate is ridiculously low

Low unemployment (below 1% since 2011) due to low birth rate, lack of social insurance & informal sector with 64% of workforce (street vendors, motorbike taxis, self-employed).

Sugar-cane farmers in Chon Buri province are among the more than 40% of Thailand's population engaged in agriculture, where there is a high degree of underemployment and off-season unemployment. Nonetheless, they are counted as employed. (photo by Patipat Janthong)


5 factors push Thailand's unemployment rate ridiculously low

'Informal' labour, birth rate, lack of insurance all figure into the 0.56% rate
Bloomberg News agency

Just 0.56%. That's Thailand's official unemployment rate as of the end of 2014. It's among the lowest in the world, and compares regionally with 9.4% in India and 6% in the Philippines.

This is not a recent phenomenon: Thailand's jobless rate has held below 1% for the most part since 2011. The record high was 5.73% in January 2001, when the National Statistical Office (NSO) first began releasing the data every month. How did it get so low?

"Our unemployment rate has been low not because of a different definition from other countries, but because of structural problems,'' said Bank of Thailand (BoT) spokesman Chirathep Senivongs Na Ayudhaya. "The agricultural sector absorbs laborers and those who can't find work can always look for jobs in the informal sector or do something on their own.''

Because there isn't much by way of unemployment insurance in Thailand, there isn't any impetus to stay jobless for long. Those who lose their jobs invariably enter the so-called "informal" sector or seek out a part-time job, and are counted as employed.

Street vendors, motorbike-taxi drivers and “informal” labourers comprised 64% of the workforce in 2013 are largely are counted as being employed. (Bangkok Post photo)

The informal sector of the Thai economy, comprising anyone who's not covered by formal work arrangements, accounted for more than 64% of the total workforce in 2013. It includes street vendors and taxi-motorbike drivers, the self-employed and those operating in "grey areas" of the economy [e.g. prostitution]. They are largely counted as employed.

More than 40% of Thailand's population is engaged in agriculture, where there is a high degree of underemployment and off-season unemployment [when crop harvesting or planting season is finished]. The underemployed are counted among the employed and make up about 0.5% of that total. If, for instance, you lose your job as a bank teller and return home and lend a hand at your dad's farm for at least one hour a week, you are considered as employed.

There's also the problem of babies, or rather the lack of them. Thailand's fertility rate from 2010-15 is estimated at 1.4 by the United Nations Population Fund compared with 3.4 in the Philippines. Plus, its population aged 60 and above rose to about 15% last year from under 7% in 1994, so there are more people retiring and fewer joining the workforce. In comparison, Japan, where more than a quarter of the population is over 65, has a jobless rate of above 3%.

The unemployment numbers also ignore foreign workers. While there may be up to 3 million migrant workers in Thailand from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), they are mostly undocumented. The government is taking steps to register foreign workers, but the language barrier is a challenge to increasing their numbers in more skilled sectors, unlike Singapore, which has addressed its labour force crunch partly with more open borders.

With no major labour-market policy changes planned and with the inflation rate falling in January for the first time since 2009 — and forecast to breach the lower end of the central bank's target range of 1% to 4% this year — there are no signs yet that the government or the monetary authority [overseeing monetary policy] is unduly worried about the jobless rate. So that rate is going to stay very low.

Workers bind steel at a construction site of the Red Line connecting Bang Sue in Bangkok to Rangsit in Pathum Thani. Thailand's official jobless rate of 0.56% is among the world's lowest.  PATTARAPONG CHATPATTARASILL


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  • absorb: to take in a liquid, gas or other substance from the surface or space around - ซึมซับ ดูดกลืน
  • accounted for: all the things or people who should be there are now there -
  • agricultural (adj): of the science or practice of farming - ที่เกี่ยวกับเกษตรกรรม
  • agriculture: the science or practice of farming - เกษตรกรรม, การเกษตร
  • arrangement: a plan or preparation that you make so that something can happen - การจัดการ
  • authority (noun): a person or government agency who has the power to make decisions or enforce the law - เจ้าหน้าที่ผู้มีอำนาจ
  • border: the official line separating two areas, regions or countries - เขตแดน อาณาเขต
  • breach: a break through or over something - รอยแตก, การข้าม, การทำให้แตก
  • central bank (noun): the main government bank in a country that controls the supply of loans (credit) and the supply of money in the country and provides financial services to the government and other banks - ธนาคารแห่งชาติ
  • challenge: something that needs a lot of skill, energy, and determination to deal with or achieve - สิ่งที่ท้าทาย, การท้าทาย
  • compare (verb): to show or state that somebody/something is similar to somebody/something else - เปรียบเทียบ
  • comprise: to consist or be made up of two or more things - ประกอบด้วย
  • comprising: consisting of - ประกอบด้วย
  • connect: to join together two or more things - เชื่อมต่อ
  • construction: the work of building or making something, especially buildings, bridges, etc. - การก่อสร้าง
  • cover (verb): when an insurance company or government provides protection against something by promising to provide a service like healthcare orpay you money if a particular event happens - ความคุ้มครอง
  • crop: a plant grown for food, usually on a farm - พืชผล
  • crunch: a situation in which there is suddenly not enough of something, especially money - ภาวะวิกฤต โดยเฉพาะเรื่องเงิน
  • data: facts or information, especially when examined and used to find out things or to make decisions - ข้อมูล, ตัวเลข, สถิติ
  • definition: a statement of what a word or expression means - คำจำกัดความ,คำอธิบาย
  • degree: an amount of something - ระดับ
  • employ: to have someone work or do a job for you and pay them for it - ว่าจ้าง, จ้าง
  • engage in: to take part in a particular activity - มีส่วนร่วมใน
  • estimated: thought to be a particular amount, size, etc. based on a guess or the best information available - ประมาณการ
  • fertility (noun): the ability to have babies; how many babies women have in a country - ภาวะเจริญพันธุ์, อัตราการเกิดของประชากร,
  • forecast: a statement about what will happen in the future based on information available now - การพยากรณ์, การคาดการณ์
  • formal: official; following an agreed or official way of doing things - เป็นพิธี,ตามแบบ,ตามระเบียบ
  • grey area: a situation which is not clear or where the rules are not known - สิ่งที่ซับซ้อน
  • harvesting: collecting a crop from the fields - การเก็บเกี่ยว
  • human rights: the basic rights which it is generally considered all people should have, such as justice and the freedom to say what you think - สิทธิมนุษยชน
  • ignore: to fail to pay attention to; to pretend that you have not noticed or do not know about something - เพิกเฉย
  • inflation: a general rise in the prices of services and goods in a particular country, resulting in a fall in the value of money - เงินเฟ้อ
  • informal (adj.): not official or recognized by government; lacking formal organization - ไม่เป็นทางการ
  • insurance: an arrangement in which you regularly pay an insurance company an amount of money so that they will give you money if something you own is damaged, lost, or stolen, or if you die or are ill or injured - การประกัน
  • invariably: certainly - เสมอ, เป็นนิจศีล
  • jobless (adj): not having a job, unemployed - ว่างงาน, ตกงาน,
  • labour: people whose job involves hard physical work that is not skilled, especially work that is done outdoors - กรรมกร, ผู้ใช้แรงงาน
  • labour force: all the people who work for a particular company, organization, etc. - แรงงาน, คนทำงาน
  • labourer: a person whose job involves hard physical work that is not skilled, especially work that is done outdoors - กรรมกร, ผู้ใช้แรงงาน
  • lack of: when there is not enough of something - ขาด
  • language barrier: when two people speak different languages making it difficult to talk and communicate -
  • major: very large or important - สำคัญมาก
  • migrant worker: someone who travels to another place or country in order to find work - คนงานต่างถิ่น
  • monetary policy (noun): the policy of the central bank of a country to control the supply of loans and money in the economy - นโยบายการเงิน
  • off-season: not during the main time or period of the year when an activity is done - off-season rice farming
  • official: done by people in authority or decided by the government; announced publicly - เป็นทางการ
  • open (adj.): available to everyone (the public) to use - ที่เปิดเผยสู่สาธารณะ
  • oversee: to watch something in order to check that it works or happens in the way that it should - ตรวจตรา
  • part-time (adj.): working or doing some other activity that is less than 40 hours per week, that does not use up all your time during the day (opposite: full-time) -
  • phenomenon: someone or something extremely successful, often because of special qualities or abilities -
  • policy (noun): a set of plans or action agreed on by a government, political party, business, or other group - นโยบาย
  • population: a particular group of people or animals living in a particular area - กลุ่มที่อาศัยอยู่ในที่เดียวกัน
  • quarter: one of four equal parts of something; 25 percent - หนึ่งในสี่ส่วน
  • range: to have an upper and a lower limit in amount, number, etc - ผันแปรภายในขอบเขตหนึ่ง
  • recent: happening or starting a short time ago - เร็วๆ นี้
  • record: the best or most ever achieved - สถิติ
  • register: to put your name and other information on an official list in order to be allowed to do something, e.g., vote, study, stay in a hotel etc - ลงทะเบียน
  • release: making known to the public - การเปิดเผย, การปล่อย
  • retire: to stop working because you have reached the age where you are officially too old to work - เกษียณอายุ
  • season (noun): a period of time during the year - ฤดูกาล, ช่วงเวลา, ระยะเวลา
  • sector: a part of a country’s economy or business activity - ภาคเศรษฐกิจของประเทศ
  • seek: to try to obtain or achieve something - พยายามได้มา
  • self-employed: working for yourself, for your own small business; not working for another person's company -
  • sign: a piece of evidence that something is happening or that something exists - ร่องรอย
  • so-called: used for saying that a particular word is usually used for referring to someone or something - ที่เป็นที่รู้กัน
  • spokesman: a person who speaks on behalf of a group or an organization - โฆษก
  • structural (adj): connected with the way that something is built or organized - เกี่ยวกับโครงสร้าง
  • take steps to: take some action to achieve some goal or solve some problem -
  • target: something you want to achieve; a particular number or amount that you want to achieve - เป้าหมาย
  • underemployment: workers who could have a better job, but are working in some low paid, low skill job to earn money -
  • undocumented: a worker who does not have the required official working papers, i.e., who is working illegally แรงงานเถื่อน -
  • unduly (adj): more than you think is reasonable or necessary - อย่างมากเกินไป, อย่างเกินไป, อย่างเกินควร
  • unemployment: the fact of a number of people not having a job; the number of people without a job - การว่างงาน, จำนวนผู้ว่างงาน
  • unemployment rate: the percentage of workers in an economy who do not have a job - อัตราการว่างงาน
  • vendor: someone who sells something, but often not in a shop - พ่อค้าแม่ค้าแผงลอย
  • workforce: all the people who work for a particular company, organization, country, etc. - แรงงาน, คนทำงาน
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