Swedish prime minister Göran Persson has warned that unemployment is the biggest domestic issue facing the government at the moment.
The unemployment rate currently sits at 5.7% and last week Sweden’s finance minister Pär Nuder predicted that would drop to 5% by the end of the year and to 4% in time for the election in September 2006.
But speaking on a visit to councils and businesses in the north east of Sweden, the prime minister was more cautious.
“The new jobs aren’t coming as soon as we thought,” he said.
The government is planning to invest over a billion kronor in encouraging employers to recruit people who are long-term unemployed, but Persson acknowledged that it is the young who are suffering most in the current climate.
“We know that it is the young who go first, but they are also the ones who are employed first when there’s a real demand in the job market,” said the prime minister.
Despite the gloomy outlook, Persson told news agency TT that he is ‘convinced the jobs will come’. But in the meantime, Sweden’s manner of dealing with the jobless has been under the media spotlight.
On Tuesday Swedish Radio revealed the results of an equality study by the Swedish employment office (AMS), which showed that unemployed men are receiving twice as much income support as women.
The survey focused on a district in the south of Sweden over a two month period. Despite comparable levels of unemployment among men and women, a total of 153 million kronor was paid to men in support while women only received 77 million kronor.
The leader of the project, Irene Edlund, told SR that this was representative of labour market politics throughout the country.
“The gender segregation in the labour market goes right through how we divide our resources,” she said.
But the organisation’s chief economist Sandro Scocco said that one reason was that more men are long term unemployed. He added that the big difference could be explained by the reality of the job market – which is not something that AMS can change.
“Women earn less than men and work [more] in the public sector,” he said.
“The fact that women get lower compensation in our system reflects the lower salary situation for women and that has nothing to do with our activity.”