In 1999, more than 50 percent of the 362,683 establishments in Thailand were located in Bangkok and nearby provinces. Based on 1999 labor statistics, Thai-land's total labor force was 8,134,644, with males (4,253,327) edging out females (3,881,317). About 4.4 million are working in the informal sector —which involves domestic work, traditional handicraft production, and manufacturing of export goods—and small-scale enterprises with less than 10 workers.
During the 1997 recession, it was estimated that about 8,000 businesses closed down while those that continued to operate had to lay off staff, reduce wages, and cut bonuses in order to stay afloat. Women were the first to be laid off in most of the industries except in printing and advertising, retail and wholesale, and furniture and wood products.
The unemployment rate fluctuated from 2.2 percent in February 1997 to 4.6 percent in February 1998 and 5.2 percent in February 1999 before dropping to 4.3 percent in February 2000. In the first 2 quarters of 1999, the total number of unemployed persons peaked at about 1.7 million. The recession has caused real wages to fall, with agriculture being the hardest hit sector. Between August 1997 and August 1999, overall real wages fell by 6.1 percent, with real wages falling by 15 percent in agriculture, 8 percent in manufacturing, and 7 percent in construction.