Country Listing

Bulgaria Table of Contents



Because of a low birth rate, labor shortages began to appear in Bulgaria in the 1980s. Then in 1989, deportation of 310,000 ethnic Turks created critical shortages in certain economic sectors. The dislocation caused by the large-scale economic reform that began in 1990 introduced high rates of unemployment and social insecurity to a system that nominally had no unemployment under the central planning regime. A period of protracted readjustment of labor to enterprise needs was expected in 1991.

Factors of Availability

The total labor force in Bulgaria was 4.078 million in 1988. Of that total, 35.9 percent were classified as industrial workers, 19 percent as agricultural workers, and 18.9 percent as service workers. In 1985 some 56 percent of the population was of working age (16 to 59 years old for men and 16 to 54 for women); 22.9 percent were under working age, and 21.1 percent were over working age. These figures indicate that the population had aged demographically since 1946, when 30 percent of the population was under the working age and only 12 percent were over. Small growth rates and occasional declines of the Bulgarian labor force increasingly inhibited economic growth in the 1980s. The meager growth in the labor force was due primarily to a birthrate that began declining before World War II.

Declining population growth did not affect Bulgarian economic planning and performance for a number of years. In the 1950s and 1960s, the expanding labor requirements of industrial growth were accommodated by a steady influx of peasant labor from the countryside and by the nationalization of artisan shops in 1951. This migration slowed, however, and complaints of an industrial labor shortage were common by the late 1960s. The situation was exacerbated in 1974 when the government reduced the work week from 48 to 42.5 hours (see Agriculture , this ch.). By the early 1980s, Bulgaria's urban working-age population had begun to decline in absolute terms. Then in May 1989, ethnic strife caused thousands of ethnic Turks to leave Bulgaria for Turkey. In August Turkish authorities finally closed the border, but only after 310,000 ethnic Turks had left the country, taking with them a substantial chunk of the Bulgarian work force. In addition, a significant "brain drain" threatened in 1990 when large numbers of young, highly educated Bulgarians applied to leave the country. In the first four months of 1990, at a time when the country desperately needed its professional class to restructure society and the economy, 550,000 such applications were received.

Labor statistics reflect a distinct change of economic priorities from agriculture to industry under communist regimes. From 1948 to 1988, the shares of labor in industry and agriculture shifted dramatically. Industry's share rose from 7.9 to 38 percent, while agriculture's share fell from 82.1 to 19.3 percent. Among other sectors, in 1988 construction, transportation and communications, and trade respectively accounted for 8.3, 6.7, and 8.7 percent of employment.

Data as of June 1992