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Unemployment in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has the Second-Highest Percentage of Job Losses in the World

Only Peru has a higher percentage of job losses in 2020, according to a recent Chilean study.

I might be dumb and it might be out there somewhere, but I can’t find it. I’ve been scouring the Costa Rican press and blogosphere for over a week now, looking. What I’m talking about is a recent study by the Chamber of Commerce (CCS) in Santiago, Chile.

Maybe you’ve seen it. The one talking about the percentage of job losses around the world in 2020?

If you have seen it, chances are you’re not in Costa Rica, because no-one seems to be talking about here. And they should be. Which is why I’m talking about it now. Better late than never.

To cut a long story short, the study lists the economies most affected by unemployment between March and July.


Job losses Costa Rica / Image by Camera de Comercio Santiago

This is a Chilean study, so obviously they’re focused on their own country, which is why Chile is in red in the above chart. But just scoot over one place to the left. You see it? Yeah, that’s Costa Rica. 

Globally, over 40 million jobs disappeared between March and July. Most of the world went into some kind of lockdown and economies everywhere evaporated.

That’s all, for want of a better phrase, well and good (there’s nothing “well and good” about any of this, but you know what I mean).

But what strikes me about the CCS study is Costa Rica being number two in the world for percentage of jobs lost.

Costa Rica lost, according to the study, 21% of its jobs between March and July, surpassed only by Peru which lost 39.2% of its jobs. Chile takes the #3 spot, losing 20.9% of its jobs between March and July.

As this is a Chilean study, they’re going nuts about it down there. They’re outraged and appalled. Here in Costa Rica, not so much. I think I saw one post on social media from someone, but that’s it.

Number two. In. The. World. Is anyone else as astounded by me over this? Why isn’t the Costa Rican press debating and tearing apart this piece of data? No-one’s talking about it. Are we all asleep? Are we all immune to the barrage after barrage of bad news in this country now?

To give the situation some perspective, between March and July, Peru effectively shut down its economy. It implemented a draconian lockdown during that period, one of the strictest in the world.

If you were in Peru between March and July, you could only leave your house for essential supplies.  The military were on the streets ensuring you couldn’t go out. Things have eased somewhat in Peru since then, but not too much. Peru is still a country under lockdown and curfew.

Under circumstances like this, it’s no surprise they lost the amount of jobs they did.

Chile also underwent heavy lockdown between March and June. Not as stringent as Peru’s but bad. The country remains under curfew today. Neither Peru nor Chile have opened their borders yet.

And inbetween, there’s Costa Rica.

No matter how much we complain in Costa Rica, we’ve never had a full lockdown here. That might change, but as of now we haven’t. What we’ve had in Costa Rica are driving restrictions and certain sectors of the economy closing. It’s not been as bad as Peru or Chile, not by a long shot.

And yet we’ve lost the second-highest percentage of jobs on earth, sandwiched in between two countries with far stricter lockdowns.

Why is that? What have we done wrong?

The obvious answer is shutting down our tourism industry. It’s the most important sector in the country and we killed it. Beach towns and tourist communities all over Costa Rica have been decimated. People who once had livelihoods now rely on food banks to survive. 

How else have we lost over one-in-five of our jobs here?

I keep seeing people on social media – mostly retired gringos with pensions in gated communities or Costa Rican public sector workers – denouncing tourism.

They say it’s “only 8% of the economy” like that’s nothing. As long as they have Netflix and can order Uber Eats they don’t seem to care.

What they do seem to care about though, is the prospect of paying 0.03% on banking transactions or VAT on said Netflix and Uber Eats. That gets them in the goolies far more than our nothing less than tragic unemployment situation does.

And it’s hypocritical, too. Your retired, pension-living gringo likely came to Costa Rica as a tourist in the first place. Your public sector worker relies on taxes paid for by tourism for his/her own (often) bloated salary.

But all this is an argument for another day.

Right now, I’d just like to see a little reaction in this country to us losing the second-highest percentage of jobs out of any country on earth. There are plenty of articles about Chile being number three in percentage of job losses. Where are the articles about Costa Rica being number two? 

Seems like we’re more outraged about mating giraffes than we are about unemployment.

Does anyone care? Bueller? Bueller?

James Dyde is the editor of He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.