The total labor force in 1998 was estimated at 5 million, of which 44 percent were women. Most children aged 10-14 have to work, and 45 percent of children in this age group were in the labor force. Children start helping with farm work from as early as 5 years of age. The public sector employs 39,000 (and is the only significant formal employer), while small shops and industry account for a few thousand jobs, as does mining. The rest of the population makes a living in agriculture, on small family farms, or in herding livestock. Gender disparities are high: while 41 percent of women work, only 8 percent hold administrative or managerial positions, and they account for only 8 percent of professional and technical workers.
The unemployment rate has little meaning in Africa. There are no social security provisions, and those without work or support from families or charities cannot survive. For much of the year in subsistence farming there is relatively little work to do, and this is shared among the family members. During planting and harvesting, there is more work to be done, and everyone is more fully occupied, but even in these periods, there may be more than enough labor to do the tasks, and the work is again shared. Since people share the farm work it appears that all of them have occupations in agriculture, but these workers are not engaged full time for all the year, and hence there is some "disguised unemployment." In the urban area those without formal sector jobs and any family or charitable support survive by casual hawking , portering, and scavenging.
The number of people earning regular wages or salaries is 70,000. There is a formal minimum wage. The government, under IMF pressure, has been streamlining the civil service, and government employees have lost their jobs, which will undoubtedly bring the government trade union trouble.
Trade unions in Niger are strong, with around 70 percent of public sector workers and more than 50 percent in the private sector unionized. The unions are militant, and strikes, which often lead to civil unrest, are not uncommon and have brought down governments. The present government, much like those of the past, faces much pressure from the public sector unions, which as well as protesting over pay arrears, have also opposed privatization, with support from students.