Economic growth in Latin America last year was termed unsatisfactory by the Inter-American Development Bank in its annual report issued over the weekend. The bank blamed the sluggish growth on the 1974-75 recession in the industrial countries.
On the other hand, 15 out of 23 countries represented by the development bank grew at slightly better real rates than they did in 1976. Thus, the slowdown was concentrated in Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Peru, Trinidad, Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica.
Overall, the combined gross domestic product of the Latin American countries grew by 4.5 percent to $334 billion. This is a better performance than in some parts of the industrial world but well under the Latin American growth peak of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Meanwhile, in a special analysis appended to the statistical sections of the report, the bank said that a current peak in the growth of the labor force poses new, even staggering, problems.
Between 1975 and the year 2000, a doubling of the Latin American labor force is projected - from 97 million to 195 million. A major facter is increased participation by women in the work force. The labor force in four countries - Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia - accounts for 70 percent of the total.
Except in Argentina, these large labor blocs are growing. The smaller countries of Costa Rica, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic also are experiencing rapid growth, which will can have great impact on their economies.
The result of this unchecked growth of the labor force will be rising unemployment and underemployment, according to the IABD. The estimate is that Brazil must produce one million more jobs a year to keep pace with the labor force's growth - an unlikely prospect.
In Mexico, the stand-still number is 600,000. In actual fact, Mexico is expected to keep falling behind. The report estimates that Mexico - for all of its new-found oil wealth - will have employment for 18.5 million workers in 1980 but a labor force of 20.2 million. Thus, there will be 1.7 million unemployed, and 600,000 to 700,000 new workers will enter the labor market that year.
Blandly, the IABD report observes: "Clearly, this will impose a heavy burden on the economy."
The report offers no solutions. It says that "there is little or no overall strategy for the very short run which also guarantees a steady growth of jobs for the next 20 or 30 years and allows for economic expansion in all sectors.
"In other words, crash employment programs of a public-works nature will certainly help the immediate problem of creating jobs so that family income can be maintained.
"However, such programs are usually beneficial only in the short run - and if incomes are to be maintained beyond the life of the program, then other job opportunities must be available for the workers."