Soaring stock markets and higher corporate profitability have pushed up executive pay and left companies sitting on piles of cash, but they have failed to create jobs for millions out of work, according to the International Labour Organisation.
The UN agency's annual report into labour markets warns that the world's advanced economies will suffer a lost decade of jobs growth, with more people unemployed for longer and more dropping out of the labour market altogether.
The ILO says the risk of social unrest is rising as inequality worsens and unemployment continues to climb, and it will be "a major global challenge for the years to come".
In the UK, it warns that rising child poverty is a very real threat unless the government does more to help unemployed people back to work.
The World of Work predicts that employment rates in advanced economies will not return to pre-crisis levels until after 2017, more than 10 years after the start of the global financial meltdown. It forecasts that emerging and developing economies will recover sooner, returning to pre-crisis employment levels by 2015.
The forecasts are based on current trends and growth forecasts from the International Monetary Fund. Should those predictions turn out to over-optimistic, a jobs recovery could take even longer, said the report's author Raymond Torres.
However long it takes, the key problem for many countries is that unemployment has already been high for many years, shrinking middle-income groups and leaving long-term social and economic scars, he said.
"Unemployment will have stayed high for a relatively long period of time and this is causing a real problem with people dropping out of the labour market altogether," said Torres, the director of the ILO's International Institute for Labour Studies.
"This not only has adverse consequences on individuals and their families, but also can weaken previously stable societies, as opportunities to advance in a good job and improve one's standard of living become the exception rather than the rule."
Those who are finding work often have to settle for shorter hours, temporary posts or jobs unsuited to their training, the report found. "Almost everywhere, young people and women find it difficult to obtain jobs that match their skills and aspirations," Torres said. "It is crucial to ensure that the spectacular advancements in educational attainment among youth in recent years are matched by commensurate decent work opportunities."
The report warns that the number of unemployed people globally will continue to increase unless policies change. Global unemployment is expected to approach 208 million in 2015, compared with slightly over 200 million now.
The ILO said investment was key to creating new jobs to replace those lost in the downturn and keep up with a growing working-age population. But it cites serious long-term challenges in most countries, where a recovery in corporate profitability and stock markets does not appear to be resulting in strong jobs growth. Instead, unspent cash in the accounts of large enterprises has reached $5tn (£3.3tn) in advanced economies, exceeding pre-crisis levels, and executive pay is also increasing.
Pay inequality is particularly acute in the UK, where the ILO warns depressed investment and low wage growth in the wider population have sparked a "vicious spiral". The chief executives of the UK's 15 largest firms earned on average 238 times the annual earnings of the average worker in 2011, the report noted, and pay for the vast majority of workers has fallen in real terms.
"Stagnating wages are adversely affecting demand, which in turn is dampening real investment, leading to poor job creation – reinforcing weak demand and so on," Torres said.
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