The economically active labor force was estimated at 11,500 in 1988, of which 73 percent were males. Approximately 12 percent of the labor force was recorded as being unemployed. However, the unemployment rate has little meaning in an economy like that of the Marshall Islands, as it relates to those registering as looking for jobs in the urban areas as a percentage of the formal labor force. A substantial part of the labor force of the Marshall Islands is in the agriculture and fishing sectors, much of it in small-scale family enterprises outside the formal sector. With negligible social security provisions, those without work or support from families or charities cannot survive. It is likely that there is considerable disguised unemployment in the rural areas, meaning that the work could be carried by a smaller workforce than is used.
There is a Marshall Islands Social Security Administration, but it is under investigation for mismanagement, and it is not able to make much of a contribution to helping those who are out-of-work or in need.