Unemployment statistics and beyond

Data from May-June 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: June 2018.

This article presents statistics on the development of unemployment in the European Union (EU), as well as a brief analysis of underemployment and the potentially available labour force. More detailed EU and euro area unemployment figures can be found in a separate article on unemployment statistics, while an article on underemployment and potential additional labour force statistics provides more detail on the number of underemployed persons and the potentially active population.

Unemployment levels and rates move in a cyclical manner, largely related to the general business cycle. However, other factors such as labour market policies and demographic changes may also influence the short and long-term development of unemployment.

Infographic 1 presents an interactive overview of the different parts of the labour force in 2016.

Infographic Labour Force Survey.jpg Infographic 1: Labour market in the EU, 2016
Click on the image for an interactive view of the data. Click on the arrow icons to expand the bars.

Figure 1: Unemployment rate 1983-2016 by age
Source: Eurostat (une_rt_a) and (lfsa_urgan)
Table 1: Youth unemployment rate and ratio, 2014-2016
Source: Eurostat (une_rt_a)
Figure 2: Unemployment rate 1983-2016 by sex
Source: Eurostat (une_rt_a) and (lfsa_urgan)
Figure 3: Unemployment by duration, 2016
Source: Eurostat (une_ltu_a)
Figure 4: Unemployment rate (among persons aged 25-64 years) by level of educational attainment, 2016
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_urgaed)
Table 2: Unemployment and supplementary indicators, 2016
Source: Eurostat (lfsa_pganws) and (lfsi_sup_age_a)
Infographic 2: Supplementary indicators to unemployment, definition and characteristics of the population
Persons aged 15-74, EU-28, annual average, 2016
(thousand persons)
Source: Eurostat (lfsi_sup_a))

Main statistical findings

Unemployment 1983-2016

Time series for the unemployment rate, covering a 34 year period for about one third of the EU Member States, make it possible to put the impact of the most recent economic crisis into a larger perspective (see Figure 1). Please note that all of the rates given in this section refer to seasonally adjusted data.

Ireland, which was hit hard by the economic crisis, had continuously very high levels of unemployment from the early 1980s until the middle of the 1990s. The longer perspective shows that it is in fact the period 2000-2007 which stands out as remarkable, with an unemployment rate under 5 %, compared to that it was hovering around the 15 % mark between 1983 and 1994. The same is to some extent true for the United Kingdom, where the unemployment rate was above 8 % (the UK unemployment high point of the most recent crisis) in eleven of the thirteen years between 1983 and 1995. France, in contrast, shows rather small changes in unemployment levels over the last generation, but at quite high level: the unemployment rate has always been between 7.3 % and 10.7 % since 1983. Portugal is the country most affected by the crisis among the Member States with data stretching back to 1983. Its unemployment rate was 7.2 % on average between 1983 and 2006, but it rose to more the double of that in 2012 (15.8 %) and 2013 (16.4 %). Italy is in a middle position between France and Portugal: its unemployment rate has consistently been on or around 10 % from the middle of the 1980s to the end of the 1990s, with a drop towards 2007, followed by a sharp increase up to 2014, and then somewhat down again in 2015 and 2016. Both Sweden and Denmark recorded an historical high unemployment rate in 1993, with 9.6 % in Denmark and 9.1 % in Sweden, contrasted with the high points during the most recent crisis being at 7.6 % for Denmark and 8.6 % in Sweden. Finally, Luxembourg stands out as the country with consistently low unemployment figure for the entire time period, at under 5 % until 2004, and a very moderate growth during the most recent crisis.

Among countries with a shorter time series available, it is interesting to see that the three Baltic countries mirror each other, with high unemployment levels in the early 2000s and in 2010, with low unemployment levels in 2007 and rapid improvement after the economic crisis. This pattern can also be found in Bulgaria, and to some extent in Croatia and Slovakia. The EU-28 aggregate is available from 2000 onwards. In the first quarter of 2000, some 20.5 million persons were unemployed in the EU-28, corresponding to 9.2 % of the total labour force. The EU-28 unemployment rate followed a downward path and by the first quarter of 2001 the number of unemployed persons had dropped to 19.6 million and the unemployment rate to 8.7 %. A period of rising unemployment followed: by the fourth quarter of 2004 the number of unemployed persons reached 21.2 million, while the unemployment rate was 9.2 %.

In the third quarter of 2005 a period of steadily falling unemployment started across the EU, lasting until the first quarter of 2008, when unemployment reached a low of 16.2 million persons (equivalent to a rate of 6.8 %) before rising sharply in the wake of the financial and economic crisis. Between the first quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2010, the level of EU-28 unemployment rose by 6.9 million persons, taking the rate up to 9.7 % (at that time the highest rate recorded since the start of the series in 2000). The unemployment rate was relatively unchanged during the following four quarters, although this was an illusory sign as regards any end to the crisis and increased stability in labour market conditions within the EU. Indeed, between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2013, EU-28 unemployment once again increased at a steady pace to a record level of 26.5 million, corresponding to a rate of 11.0 %. There was subsequently a reduction in the unemployment rate, such that it stood at 8.5 % by the third quarter of 2016, corresponding to 20.9 million persons. This drop continued into 2017, with an unemployment rate of 8.0 % in the first quarter of 2017, and 7.8 % in April 2017, the lowest monthly unemployment rate since January 2009.

The unemployment rate in the euro area (EA-19) followed roughly the same development as in the EU-28. However, between the end of 2000 and the end of 2003 the unemployment rate in the euro area was below that recorded in the EU-28. This pattern was subsequently reversed as, between 2005 and the beginning of 2008, unemployment declined more rapidly in those Member States which did not have the euro as official currency. During the financial and economic crisis, euro area unemployment increased at a considerable pace, with the exception of the period between mid-2010 and mid-2011 when it temporarily declined. The euro area unemployment level peaked at 19.3 million (12.1 %) in the second quarter of 2013. Thereafter it fell every quarter, although at a slower rate than in the EU-28; by the third quarter of 2016 unemployment in the euro area stood at 16.3 million, a rate of 10.0 %. In 2017, the unemployment rate dropped further, to 9.3 % in April 2017.

Youth unemployment

Figure 1 shows that the youth unemployment rate (persons between 15 and up to 24 years) has always been higher than the total unemployment rate, for all countries and years we have data for, with one exception: Germany in 1992. The lowest ever recorded youth unemployment rate in a Member State is 3.1 %, in Luxembourg in 1991. The highest ever was in Greece in 2013, at 58.3 %. Between these two extremes, the general pattern is that the youth unemployment mirrors the unemployment for the total population (see for instance Belgium and the Netherlands in Figure 1), but that younger people are often more affected by increase in unemployment than older people (see for instance Italy and Croatia). France however stands out as not following this general pattern, with a large increase in youth unemployment in the 1990s, when the total unemployment stayed stable.

As for the total unemployment rate, the youth unemployment rate in the EU-28 declined sharply between 2005 and 2007, reaching its lowest value (15.2 %) in the first quarter of 2008. The financial and economic crisis, however, severely hit the younger members of the labour force. From the second quarter of 2008, the youth unemployment rate followed an upward path peaking at 23.9 % in the first quarter of 2013 (aside from temporary reductions during the third quarter of 2010 and first quarter of 2011), before declining to 18.5 % by the third quarter of 2016. It has since then steadily decreased further, to 16.7 % in April 2017, the lowest rate since November 2008. The EU-28 youth unemployment rate was systematically higher than the youth unemployment rate for the euro area between 2000 and the end of 2007. During the period from the second quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2010 these two rates were close, although the youth unemployment rate in the euro area was slightly higher than in the EU-28. Thereafter, the youth unemployment rate was moderately higher in the EU-28 for six consecutive quarters through to the first quarter of 2012. From the second quarter of 2012 onwards, the euro area systematically recorded a higher youth unemployment rate, with the gap between the respective rates for the euro area and the EU-28 widening almost every quarter to reach more than 2.0 percentage points in the second half of 2015 and the first three quarters of 2016. This gap remains through the end of 2016 and into 2017, standing at 2.0 percentage points in April 2017. High youth unemployment rates reflect, to some degree, the difficulties faced by young people in finding jobs. However, this does not necessarily mean that the group of unemployed persons aged between 15 and 24 is large, as many young people, as opposed to older people, are studying full-time and are therefore neither working nor looking for a job (so they are not part of the labour force which is used as the denominator for calculating the unemployment rate). For this reason, the youth unemployment ratio is calculated as an alternative indicator for the purpose of analysis — it presents the share of unemployed youths among the whole of the youth population. Table 1 shows that the youth unemployment ratio in the EU-28 was, unsurprisingly, much lower than the youth unemployment rate. The youth unemployment ratio did however rise from 2008 through to 2013 due to the effects of the financial and economic crisis on the labour market. The latest EU-28 youth unemployment ratio shows that 7.7 % of those aged 15-24 were unemployed in 2016, down from 8.4 % in 2015 and 9.2 % in 2014.

Unemployment rates for men and women

For a large majority of years and countries for which data are available, women record a higher unemployment rate than men. This can also be seen for the EU-28 aggregate for fifteen of the seventeen years available. For the Euro area (EA-19) aggregate, this can even been observed for every year since 1998. There are however some exceptions to this trend (see Figure 2), for instance Estonia from 2000 to 2016 (all years where data are available for this country) and Ireland from 1998 to 2016. The gender unemployment gap in the EU-28 has nevertheless narrowed from 1.8 percentage points in 2000 to 0.3 percentage points in 2016.

A detailed look at 2016

The overall unemployment rate in the EU-28 fell from 10.2 % in 2014 to 9.4 % in 2015, and further down to 8.5 % in 2016. This is the lowest annual average unemployment rate since 2009. The decrease of 0.9 percentage points between 2015 and 2016 is the second largest decrease recorded for the EU-28, only beaten by the decrease between 2006 and 2007, which was 1.0 percentage points. The unemployment rate fell in 25 of the 28 EU Member States between 2015 and 2016, while it rose in two Member States (Estonia and Austria) and remained unchanged in one Member State (Denmark). The largest decreases in annual average unemployment rates between 2015 and 2016 were recorded in Croatia (down 2.8 percentage points), Spain (down 2.5 percentage points), Cyprus (down 1.9 percentage points) and Slovakia (down 1.8 percentage points). By contrast, the highest increase in unemployment among the EU Member States between 2015 and 2016 was reported in Estonia, where the unemployment rate rose by 0.6 percentage points.

At 23.6 % and 19.6 %, Greece and Spain recorded by far the highest overall unemployment rates among the EU Member States in 2016; the next highest unemployment rate was recorded in Croatia, at 13.3 %. At the other end of the range, the lowest unemployment rates in 2016 were recorded in the Czech Republic (4.0 %), Germany (4.1 %), Malta (4.7 %) and the United Kingdom (4.8 %). The dispersion of unemployment rates across the EU-28 Member States (the percentage point difference between the highest and the lowest unemployment rate) increased between 2008 and 2015. This trend has turned in 2016 and the dispersion is now the lowest since 2012.

Between 2015 and 2016, unemployment rates both for men and for women across the EU-28 decreased: the unemployment rate for men fell from 9.3 % to 8.4 %, while the rate for women fell from 9.5 % to 8.7 %. In the euro area (EA-19) between 2015 and 2016, unemployment rates for men decreased sharper than for women: from 10.7 % to 9.7 % and from 11.0 % to 10.4 %, respectively. Looking at the figures by country, the unemployment rates for men were higher than the corresponding rates for women during 2016 in 13 out of the 28 EU Member States (see Figure 2). The gap between unemployment rates for men and women varied from -8.2 percentage points in Greece (lower unemployment rate for men) to +2.6 percentage points in Ireland (higher unemployment rate for men). Among the 28 Member States, the unemployment rate for men decreased between 2015 and 2016 in 25 countries (exceptions are Estonia, Luxembourg and Austria) and in 22 countries for women (exceptions are Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy, Malta and Austria). The youth unemployment rate in the EU-28 was more than double the overall unemployment rate in 2016, standing at 18.7 %. As such, around one out of every five young persons in the labour force was not employed, but looking and available for a job (see Figure 1). There was however a steady reduction in the youth unemployment rate in the last three years, with a fall of 1.5 percentage points from 2013 to 2014, a further drop of 1.9 percentage points the year after, and finally a decrease of 1.6 points from 2015 to 2016. The rate now stands at its lowest since 2009. In the euro area, the youth unemployment rate was somewhat higher at 20.9 % in 2016 and it fell at a slower pace between 2015 and 2016, declining by 1.5 percentage points. Looking at country figures, the unemployment rate among young persons was higher than the rate for those aged between 25 and 74 in all of the EU Member States (see Figure 1). In 2016, the youth unemployment rate was particularly high in Greece (47.3 %), Spain (44.4 %), Italy (37.8 %) and Croatia (31.1 %), while a bit less than one third of those aged 18-24 were unemployed in Cyprus (29.1 %) and Portugal (28.2 %). Germany (7.0 %) was the only Member State with a youth unemployment rate below 10 %. It was still lower, 6.5 %, in the non-Member State Iceland.

Long-term unemployment is one of the main concerns of policy-makers. Apart from its financial and social effects on personal life, long-term unemployment negatively affects social cohesion and, ultimately, may hinder economic growth. Figure 3 shows how, as a proportion of the unemployed, how long they have been unemployed. On EU level, a bit more than half (53.6 %) of those unemployed have been unemployed for less than one year, as seen in Figure 3. However, this average hides large differences between the countries. More than 80 % of the unemployed in Sweden are in this group, followed by Denmark (78 %), Finland (74 %), and the United Kingdom (73 %) meaning that it goes relatively fast to find a new job for the unemployed in those countries. Not surprisingly, we find Greece on the other end of the scale, with only 28 %, followed by Slovakia (40 %), Bulgaria (41 %), and Italy (43 %).

In industrialised economies, educational qualifications are often viewed as being a good insurance against unemployment, as unemployment rates tend to be higher for persons with lower levels of educational attainment (when compared with persons having a tertiary level of educational attainment). This characteristic was noted in all of the EU Member States in 2016 (see Figure 4). While the average unemployment rate in the EU-28 for people aged between 25 and 64 having attained at most a lower secondary education was 15.1 %; the corresponding rate for those that had obtained a tertiary education qualification was much lower at 4.7 %. The gap in unemployment rates between those who had attained a tertiary level of educational attainment and those who had attained at most a lower secondary education was particularly pronounced in Slovakia (24.3 percentage points difference), Lithuania (23.5 percentage points) and Bulgaria (18.6 percentage points), while the gap was narrowest in Denmark (1.8 percentage points) and Luxembourg (3.2 percentage points).

Beyond unemployment: underemployment and potential additional labour force

In addition to unemployed persons, there are three groups which are of interest for analysing the labour market. These three groups do not meet all criteria of the ILO unemployment definition, i.e. being without work, actively seeking work and being available for work. However, while not being captured through the unemployment rate, these groups still represent a form of unmet demand for employment. These are underemployed part-time workers, jobless persons seeking a job but not immediately available for work, and finally jobless persons available for work but not seeking it

In the EU-28 there were 9.5 million underemployed part-time workers aged 15-74 in 2016, 2.3 million jobless persons seeking a job but not immediately available for work, and a further 8.8 million persons available for work but not seeking it (see Table 2 and Infographic 2). The majority of these persons were women, as 6.2 million underemployed part-time women represented 65 % of this category, while 1.2 million women were seeking work but not immediately available (54 %) and 5.0 million women were available for work but not seeking it (57 %).

Data sources and availability

The main source for European unemployment, underemployment and potential labour force figures is the European Union labour force survey (EU LFS). This household survey is carried out in all EU Member States in accordance with European legislation; it provides figures at least each quarter.


Eurostat publishes unemployment statistics based on a definition of unemployment provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for which there are three criteria, namely:

  • being without work;
  • actively seeking work;
  • and being available for work.

The ILO definition of the unemployment rate is the most widely used labour market indicator because of its international comparability and relatively timely availability. Besides the unemployment rate, indicators such as employment and job vacancies also give useful insights into labour market developments.

There is currently no legal basis for producing and disseminating monthly unemployment data and few countries actually supply monthly unemployment data and few countries actually supply monthly unemployment figures directly from the LFS. Nevertheless, Eurostat calculates monthly data for many countries by using additional monthly figures from unemployment registers. The quarterly LFS results are always used as a benchmark to ensure international comparability.

Monthly unemployment figures are published by Eurostat as rates (as a percentage of the labour force) or levels (in thousands), by sex and for two age groups (persons aged 15 to 24, and those aged 25 to 74). The figures are available as unadjusted, seasonally adjusted and as a trend series. The time series for data for the EU-28 and the euro area (EA-19) aggregates start in 2000; the starting point for individual EU Member States varies.

Quarterly and annual unemployment figures from the LFS are also published, with more detailed breakdowns (for example, a wider range of age groups, by nationality, or by educational attainment); there are also figures available on long-term unemployment (unemployed for more than 12 months) and very long-term unemployment (unemployed for more than 24 months).

Unemployment rates are also presented according to the educational attainment of the population. The different levels of education are defined by the United Nations International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED 2011).

Underemployment and potential additional labour force

Many persons only partially fulfil the three unemployment criteria above and are therefore not considered as unemployed. In order to provide information on people who are not unemployed, Eurostat also publishes indicators on the following groups.

  • Underemployed part-time workers: persons working part-time who wish to work additional hours and are available to do so.
  • The potential additional labour force: jobless persons who want to work and are either available to work or are searching for work but not both at the same time. This group includes, among others, discouraged job seekers and persons prevented from job seeking due to personal or family circumstances. This group is split into two groups: persons seeking work but not immediately available; persons available to work but not seeking work.


The unemployment rate is an important indicator with both social and economic dimensions. Rising unemployment results in a loss of income for individuals, increased pressure with respect to government spending on social benefits and a reduction in tax revenue. From an economic perspective, unemployment may be viewed as unused labour capacity.

Time series for unemployment are used by the European Commission, other public institutions, and the media as an economic indicator, while banks may use the data for business cycle analysis. Finally, there is interest among the general public for information concerning unemployment.

The unemployment rate is considered to be a lagging indicator. When there is an economic downturn, it usually takes several months before the unemployment rate begins to rise. Once the economy starts to pick up again, employers usually remain cautious about hiring new workers and it may take several months before unemployment rates start to fall.

Male, youth and long-term unemployment appear to be more susceptible to cyclical economic changes than overall unemployment. Indeed, social policymakers often face the challenge of remedying these situations by designing ways to increase employment opportunities for various groups of society, those working in particular economic activities, or those living in specific regions.

Globalisation and technological developments appear to have an ever-increasing effect on daily life, and the demand for different types of labour and skills changes, sometimes at a rapid pace. While enterprises try to improve their productivity and become more competitive and innovative, they may well seek to pass on risk to the labour force through greater flexibility — both in relation to those already in employment, as well as those searching for a new job. Within the context of the European employment strategy (EES), there are a number of measures that are designed to help encourage people to remain in work or find a new job, including: the promotion of a life-cycle approach to work, encouraging lifelong learning, improving support to those seeking a job, as well as ensuring equal opportunities.

The Europe 2020 strategy put forward by the European Commission sets out a vision of Europe’s social market economy for the 21st century. As part of the flagship initiatives, An agenda for new skills and jobs and Youth on the move, (youth) unemployment rates were targeted via a range of policies, including proposals aimed at education and training institutions, or measures for the creation of a (work) environment conducive to higher activity rates and higher labour productivity.

The financial and economic crisis and the subsequent slow pace of recovery reversed much of the progress achieved in European labour markets. In response to increasingly high levels of unemployment, the European Commission launched in April 2012 a set of measures to boost jobs, the so called Employment package.

One of the main concerns for policymakers was the high level of youth unemployment recorded in many of the EU Member States. Aside from the focus on youth unemployment within the flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy, the EU subsequently agreed on a range of follow-up initiatives which aim to reduce youth unemployment. The Youth employment package (2012) built on actions in the Employment package and included:

  • a proposal — adopted by the Council in April 2013 — that all EU Member States should establish a Youth guarantee (which should ensure that every young person aged less than 25 should get a good-quality, concrete job offer within four months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed);
  • renewed consultation with EU social partners on establishing a quality framework for traineeships;
  • co-ordinating the European alliance for apprenticeships, by bringing together public authorities, businesses, social partners, training providers, youth representatives, and other key actors in order to promote apprenticeship schemes and initiatives across Europe.

The Youth employment initiative (2013) reinforced and accelerated measures in this field, aiming to support young people who are not in education and employment or training in those regions where youth unemployment rates are above 25 %.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

LFS main indicators (t_lfsi)
Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (t_une)
LFS series - detailed annual survey results (t_lfsa)
Unemployment rates of the population aged 25-64 by educational attainment level (tps00066)


LFS main indicators (lfsi)
Unemployment - LFS adjusted series (une)
LFS series - detailed quarterly survey results (from 1998 onwards) (lfsq)
Total unemployment - LFS series (lfsq_unemp)
LFS series - Detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
Total unemployment - LFS series (lfsa_unemp)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links