“It’s too early to say the worst is over,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “However, if current estimates of global growth and domestic demand hold steady or improve over the coming year, the global employment picture may brighten somewhat in 2004.”Despite the pickup in economic growth after a two-year slump, the 2003 figures remained at record levels for men and women and escalated more sharply among young people, aged 15-24, the report says.”Our greatest concern is that if the recovery falters and our hopes for more and better jobs are further delayed, many countries will fail to cut poverty by half as targeted by the Millennium Development Goals for 2015,” Mr. Somavia adds. “But we can reverse this trend and reduce poverty if policy-makers stop treating employment as an afterthought and place decent work at the heart of macroeconomic and social policies.”The ILO report says unemployment and underemployment during the first half of 2003 rose because of the slow pace of the upturn in the industrialized world’s economies and the negative impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) on employment in Asia. A drop in tourism and travel employment also resulted from armed conflicts.The number of people who were unemployed and looking for work in 2003 reached 185.9 million, or about 6.2 per cent of the total labour force – the highest unemployment figure the ILO has ever recorded. This was, however, only a marginal increase over the 2002, when 185.4 million were jobless.Some 108.1 million of the unemployed were men, up 600,000 from 2002. Among women, there was a slight decline to 77.8 million in 2003 from 77.9 million in 2002. Hardest hit were some 88.2 million young people with a crushing unemployment rate of 14.4 per cent, the report says.In the poorer countries, the “informal economy” of people without fixed jobs or steady self-employment has grown and the “working poor,” defined as those living on $1 a day or less, has remained at an estimated 550 million, according to the report.