Back to search

ILO Report Highlights Disparities in Rural-Urban Employment

The UN International Labour Organization (ILO) released a report that highlights increasing productivity in rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean but finds 56 percent of rural workers face lower wages and social protection and prevalence of poverty compared to 27 percent of workers in urban areas.

‘Working in the rural area in the XXI century,’ a Spanish report, is based on statistical data from household surveys in 14 countries. The report documents improvements in working conditions in rural areas between 2004 and 2014 but also finds that more than half of the 52 million workers in rural areas of the region experience vulnerable employment. ILO identifies a lower proportion of public and private investment in the area as one reason for gaps between rural and urban areas.

ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jose Manuel Salazar, explained that the majority of labour income comes from work in the region, which means that “the welfare and development of rural areas depend on what happens in the labour markets, income and employment conditions.” He elaborated that rural areas have changed in the past 20 to 30 years, with reductions in agricultural employment and an increase in non-farm occupations alongside urbanization trends and demographic shifts, with fewer young people living in rural areas. Salazar also emphasizes that “the rural sector represents the hard core of poverty, exclusion and informality in the region.”

The report finds that 60 million rural people, or more than 46 percent, experience rural poverty compared to nearly 24 percent of urban people. Other gaps include: health insurance, held by 37 percent of rural people compared to 62 percent of urban people; pension coverage, with 26 percent of the rural population covered compared to 56 percent in urban areas; and labour income, where average incomes in rural areas are 68 percent of the urban average.

ILO recommends: emphasizing land tenure; investing in physical infrastructure, diversification and productive development using a territorial approach; reducing a bias towards urban areas in terms of public policies on employment by increasing focus on rural areas; and connecting small rural producers with worldwide supply chains. Other policy recommendations focus on investing in education and vocational training, promoting productive development policies and increasing social protection.

This ILO report ( in Spanish)is relevant for actions related to SDG 8 (Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all) and SDG 10 (Reduce inequalities within and among countries). SDG Target 8.2 aims to “Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors.” Other relevant targets call for ensuring equal opportunity and address inequalities, including among outcomes. ( IISD)