Twenty-seven million people around the world lost their jobs last year, the UN said in a report released on the opening of the World Economic Forum.
About 12 million of the newly unemployed were in North America, Japan and Western Europe, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said.
The jobless total jumped by nearly four million in both Eastern Europe and Latin America while unemployment rates were more stable last year in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The figures point to the need for a "global jobs pact" to boost employment around the world, the ILO said.
"Avoiding a jobless recovery is the political priority of today," ILO chief Juan Somavia said. "We need the same policy decisiveness that saved banks now applied to save and create jobs and livelihoods of people."
In an 82-page report, the agency said it expected unemployment to remain high through 2010, with perhaps an additional three million people in the rich world losing their jobs or unable to find employment as they enter the job market.
Not all the unemployed were fired. The ILO said youth unemployment has increased by over 10 million in the last two years, the worst surge since the agency began compiling global statistics in 1991.
To address the problem, the ILO wants governments to adopt a two-pronged approach of employment creation and better unemployment benefits, even if the latter may prove a disincentive for some people looking for jobs.
It said the global unemployment rate was 6.6% last year, but that the true scope of the problem was much worse because over 600 million workers and their families were surviving on less than 77p a day.
The ILO timed its report for the start of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where 2,500 business and political leaders will spend five days debating financial reforms, job creation strategies and other key elements of economic recovery.