Labour market statistics at regional level

Data extracted in April 2018.

Planned article update: September 2019.


The highest regional employment rates were concentrated in Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The Czech capital city region of Praha had the lowest unemployment rate across all regions of the EU, at 1.7 %.

Source: Eurostat

A well-functioning labour market with a highly-qualified workforce that can rapidly acquire new skills is increasingly seen as a prerequisite for delivering a dynamic and competitive economy. Statistics for analysing labour market developments are used by European Union (EU) policymakers, for example, to monitor the Europe 2020 strategy or to respond to the requirements of the EU’s economic and monetary policy. As well as being of concern to governments and policymakers, labour markets are also paramount to personal development, as employment opportunities provide a means, among others, of gaining independence, financial security and a sense of belonging. While the EU promotes the labour market integration of all members of society, some groups continue to be subject to discrimination (under-represented or excluded).

Full article

Under its priority of ensuring a deeper and fairer economic and monetary union, the EU seeks to deliver more job opportunities and better living standards by combining fairness and democratic accountability. The European pillar of social rights is designed to guarantee effective citizen rights, by ensuring: equal opportunities and access to labour markets; fair working conditions; social protection and inclusion. This initiative is based on 20 underlying principles. At the same time, the EU has been working on a range of other initiatives, such as measures promoting work-life balance (minimum standards of parental/care leave, designed to encourage more men to take-up out-of-work responsibilities) or new ways of providing adequate social security cover for the self-employed and people who work in the gig economy.

This article analyses EU labour markets, providing an overview of regional employment and unemployment. Eurostat compiles and publishes labour market statistics for EU regions, the individual EU Member States, as well as the EU-28 aggregate; in addition, data are also available for several EFTA and candidate countries; subnational statistics are presented for NUTS level 2 regions and by degree of urbanisation.

In 2017, the EU-28 population was composed of 380.2 million persons aged 15-74 years. The economically active population — otherwise referred to as the labour force — accounted for 245.8 million people of this age, while there were 134.4 million who were economically inactive (in other words, they were neither employed nor unemployed); this latter cohort is largely composed of students, pensioners and people caring for other family members, but also includes volunteers and people unable to work because of disability. The EU-28 labour force aged 15-74 years is made-up of people in work (employed persons; 227.0 million) and people who are not working, but actively seeking and available for work (unemployed persons; 18.8 million). A more detailed analysis detailing the composition of EU-28 employment is presented in Infographic 1.

Infograph 1: Labour force composition, EU-28, 2017
(thousand persons)
Source: Eurostat (demo_pjangroup), (lfsa_pganws), (lfsa_eftpt), (lfsa_etgaed) and (lfsa_ugad)

Employment rates

Europe 2020 headline target: to have at least 75 % of the working-age population employed by 2020

The employment rate is the ratio of employed persons (of a given age) relative to the total population (of the same age). For this section, information is presented on the working-age population, defined here as people aged 20-64 years. This definition aims to ensure compatibility at the lower end of the age range, given that an increasing proportion of young people remain within educational systems, which may exclude them from participating in labour markets. At the upper end of the range, rates are usually set to a maximum of 64 years, taking into account (statutory) retirement or pension ages in the EU. Note however that policymakers are increasingly looking to extend retirement/pensionable ages and in the future it is likely that a greater share of older persons will remain in the labour force.

The Europe 2020 strategy set a benchmark target, as part of its agenda for growth and jobs, whereby 75 % of all 20-64 year-olds should be employed by 2020. In order to deliver this overall goal, national targets have been set for each of the EU Member States: these targets range from 80 % or higher in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden down to 70 % or lower in Ireland, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Malta and Romania; there is no target in the national reform programme of the United Kingdom. The rationale behind such targets is to increase the number of employed persons in the face of population ageing of and its associated challenges in relation to the future sustainability of public finances and social models.

The highest regional employment rates in the EU were recorded in Åland (Finland), Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (the United Kingdom) and Stockholm (Sweden)

The EU-28 employment rate for people aged 20-64 stood at 72.2 % in 2017, marking its fourth consecutive increase since a relative low of 68.4 % in 2013. The EU-28 employment rate rose by 1.1 percentage points compared with a year before, which was slightly higher than the annual gains that were recorded during the previous three years (which were all within the range of 0.8-1.0 points). If the employment rate continues to grow at a similar speed during the next three years then the Europe 2020 target should be achieved.

Map 1 presents employment rates for people aged 20-64 across NUTS level 2 regions; the highest employment rates — equal to or above the Europe 2020 target of 75.0 % — are shown by the two darkest shades, with slightly less than half (128 out of 276) of all regions across the EU having such a rate in 2017.

Those regions where at least four out of every five people of working-age were in employment — as shown by the darkest shade in the map — were some of the most dynamic labour markets, often characterised by low levels of unemployment and a relatively high share of women in work. These 41 regions with the highest employment rates were concentrated in Germany (17 different regions), the United Kingdom (14) and Sweden (6), while there were also two regions from the Czech Republic and a single region from each of the Netherlands and Finland. The latter was of particular interest insofar as Åland — an archipelago in the Baltic Sea — had the highest employment rate in the EU, at 88.2 %. The next highest employment rates in the EU were recorded in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (85.2 %; a region situated to the west of London in the United Kingdom) and Stockholm (84.2 %; the Swedish capital city region). Among these 41 regions, it was interesting to note intra-regional differences in some of the larger Member States, for example, somewhat higher employment rates were recorded in southern (rather than northern) regions of both Germany and the United Kingdom.

At the other end of the range, the lowest employment rates for people aged 20-64 years were most frequently located in southern parts of the EU. In 2017, there were five regions where less than half of the working-age population was in work: four of these were in southern Italy — Sicilia, Calabria, Campania and Puglia — while the other was the French overseas region of Mayotte. The lowest regional employment rate was 44.0 %, recorded by the Italian island region of Sicilia. In contrast to intra-regional patterns for Germany and the United Kingdom, employment rates in Italy tended to be lower in southern (rather than northern) regions.
Map 1: Employment rate, by NUTS 2 regions, 2017
(% share of population aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfe2emprt) and (lfsi_emp_a)
Figure 1 presents information for employment rates of working-age persons by degree of urbanisation. At an aggregated level, there was little difference between EU-28 employment rates for rural areas (72.6 %), towns and suburbs or cities (both 72.0 %). However, in eastern parts of the EU and the Baltic Member States it was commonplace to find that people living in cities were much more likely to be in work. This was particularly the case in Bulgaria, where the employment rate for people living in cities was 14.4 percentage points higher than for people living in rural areas, while double-digit differences in favour of people living in cities were also recorded in Lithuania (13.7 points) and Croatia (10.3 points). The situation in western Member States was often reversed, insofar as the highest employment rates were usually recorded for people living in rural areas, with the lowest rates for people living in cities, which were in some cases characterised by a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion. In Belgium, the employment rate for working-age persons living in rural areas was 72.2 %, which was 9.9 points higher than for people living in cities. A similar pattern was observed in several other western parts of the EU, including Austria — where the difference in employment rates between people living in rural areas and people living in cities was only slightly lower (9.5 points) — Germany (5.5 points), the Netherlands (5.2 points), France (3.9 points) and the United Kingdom (2.9 points).
Figure 1: Employment rate, by degree of urbanisation, 2017
(% share of population aged 20-64)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_ergau)

Part-time employment

Modern economies are characterised by flexible forms of work, many of which have arisen following the introduction of information and communication technologies. ‘Flexicurity’ is a term used to describe a strategy for enhancing — at the same time — the wishes of employers for a more flexible workforce with the desire of employees to have greater security in their jobs.

A simple count of the number of persons in employment may be used to quantify labour input. However, policymakers are increasingly interested in more detailed types of analyses, for example, distinguishing people who work on a full-time basis from part-timers (note that this classification is generally based on a spontaneous response by the respondent). There are a number of reasons why an individual may choose or accept to work on a part-time basis, for example: to have greater flexibility to do other things; to have more variety at work, perhaps combining part-time posts; to supplement an income or pension; to avoid being unemployed; to seek financial independence; to avoid having to pay for childcare.

More than half of all persons employed in seven Dutch regions worked on a part-time basis

The data presented in Map 2 concerns the share of employed persons who were working on a part-time basis: in 2017, this type of work concerned approximately one in five persons (20.3 %) across the whole of the EU-28. One of the most striking features of the map is the homogeneous pattern of part-time employment rates that are recorded for different regions within each of the EU Member States. Another feature of the map is the distinct split between eastern and western regions, with much lower part-time employment rates generally recorded in the former. These patterns probably reflect the maturity of labour markets and the impact of national employment legislation alongside a high degree of conformity within each Member State as regards attitudes to part-time work.

In 2017, the highest shares of part-time employment were systematically recorded in the Netherlands. Indeed, the 12 Dutch regions occupied the top 12 places in a ranking of part-time employment rates across NUTS level 2 regions. In seven of these, more than half of all employed persons aged 15 and over worked on a part-time basis, with the highest rate (56.4 %) in the university region of Groningen. The lowest share of part-time employment among the 12 Dutch regions was in Zuid-Holland (48.8 %), however, this was fully 14.1 percentage points higher than the next highest regional part-time employment rate in the EU-28, as recorded in Devon (the United Kingdom; 34.7 %). More generally, outside of the Netherlands, the highest part-time employment rates were concentrated in the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria.

At the other end of the range, there were 42 regions in the EU where fewer than 7.5 % of the total number of persons employed worked on a part-time basis in 2017. These were primarily located in the eastern regions of the EU — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia — but also included five regions in Greece. The lowest share of part-time employment was 0.6 % in the Romanian capital city region, Bucuresti - Ilfov. This situation was observed in several EU Member States, as the capital city regions of Spain, France, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom each recorded low shares of part-time employment (in relation to national averages), possibly reflecting the high cost of living in capital cities, which may mean that some people cannot afford to only work on a part-time basis, or also a greater availability of full-time employment opportunities in capital city regions.
Map 2: Part-time employment, by NUTS 2 regions, 2017
(% share of employed persons aged 15 and over)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfe2eftpt)


Unemployment can have an impact not just on the economic well-being of a country (unused potential labour input and higher social protection payments) but also on the well-being of individuals who are without work. The personal and social costs of unemployment are varied and include a higher risk of poverty, debt or homelessness, while the stigma of being unemployed can cause a reduction in self-esteem, a breakdown in family/personal relations, or social exclusion.

Eurostat‘s unemployment statistics follow guidelines provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO): an unemployed person is someone aged 15 to 74 years who is without work, but who has actively sought employment in the last four weeks and is available to begin work within the next two weeks. The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed persons expressed as a percentage of the total labour force.

In 2017, there were 18.8 million unemployed persons in the EU-28, equivalent to 7.6 % of the total labour force. Although these latest figures remain higher than in 2008 at the onset of the global financial and economic crisis — 16.8 million unemployed persons and an unemployment rate of 7.0 % — they did represent a considerable reduction when compared with the situation in 2013, when the total number of unemployed persons in the EU-28 peaked at 26.3 million (a rate of 10.9 %).

The lowest unemployment rate was recorded in the Czech capital city region of Praha

Map 3 shows that in 2017 the lowest regional unemployment rates in the EU-28 were concentrated in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Poland and the United Kingdom. By contrast, the highest unemployment rates were recorded in southern Europe, particularly in Greece, as well as southern regions of Italy and Spain. The distribution of unemployment rates over NUTS level 2 regions was somewhat skewed insofar as there were 179 regions that had rates below the EU-28 average, compared with 94 regions where the unemployment rate was higher than the EU-28 average.

In 2017, the lowest regional unemployment rate in the EU was recorded in the Czech capital city region of Praha, at 1.7 %; in other words, fewer than 1 in 50 people within the labour force were without work. Note that Åland (Finland) had the highest employment rate and hence it is also likely to have a very low unemployment rate (but this value cannot be published due to confidentiality). There were 13 regions across the EU that reported regional unemployment rates within the range of 2.0-2.5 %, a majority of which (eight different regions) were located in Germany — five of which were in Bayern — along with two further regions from the Czech Republic, two regions from Hungary, and a single region from the United Kingdom.

At the other end of the range, the highest regional unemployment rates — as shown by the darkest shade in Map 3 — were grouped together in four clusters and included: all 13 regions in Greece; eight regions principally in southern Spain; the five French overseas regions; and four regions in southern Italy. The northern Greek region of Dytiki Makedonia had the highest unemployment rate in the EU among NUTS level 2 regions, at 29.1 %, while there were five further regions where more than one quarter of the labour force was without work: three of these regions were located in Spain — Extremadura, Andalucía and the overseas region of Ciudad Autónoma de Melilla; an additional Greek region — Dytiki Ellada; and a French overseas region — Mayotte.

In 2017, Italy and Belgium were characterised by some of the largest ranges in unemployment rates between NUTS level 2 regions. In Italy, there was a clear north-south divide, with unemployment rates ranging from 3.1 % in Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen up to 21.6 % in Calabria; as such the highest rate was seven times as high as the lowest rate. In Belgium, the unemployment rate peaked at 14.9 % in the capital city region of Région de Bruxelles-Capitale / Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, which was 4.7 times as high as the unemployment rate in Prov. West-Vlaanderen (3.2 %). Aside from Belgium, there were two other cases where the highest regional unemployment rate was recorded in the capital city region, Austria and Germany. In the Austrian capital city region of Wien the unemployment rate of 10.4 % was 3.4 times as high as in Salzburg (which had the lowest rate among Austrian regions, at 3.1 %). In a similar vein, the unemployment rate in the German capital city region of Berlin (7.0 %) was 3.5 times as high as the rate recorded in the western region of Trier (2.0 %); note that a relatively high number of inhabitants in Trier commute each day to work across the border in Luxembourg.
Map 3: Unemployment rate, by NUTS 2 regions, 2017
(% share of labour force aged 15-74)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfu3rt)

The EU-28 youth unemployment rate was 16.8 %, more than double the total unemployment rate (7.6 %)

One area of particular interest to policymakers is that of youth unemployment. The performance of youth labour markets is closely linked to education and training systems and reflects, at least to some degree, a mismatch between the skills obtained by young people and the skills that are required by employers (to fill job vacancies). Several EU Member States have in recent years enacted new employment law with the goal of liberalising labour markets, for example, by providing a wider range of possibilities for hiring staff through temporary, fixed-term or zero hours contracts. In some countries this has resulted in a clear division between people with a permanent, full-time post and those with possibly more ‘precarious’ employment; the latter are often young people or those with relatively low levels of educational attainment.

The youth unemployment rate is defined as the share of unemployed people aged 15-24 years, expressed in relation to the total labour force of the same age. It is important to note that a relatively high proportion of people aged 15-24 is outside the labour market as they study full-time (and are therefore not available to work and are consequently outside the calculation for unemployment). Note that the youth unemployment rate was relatively low in several regions and that this data cannot be published (due to small sample sizes) and has therefore been assimilated with data for those regions where no information is available.

In 2017, the EU-28 youth unemployment rate was 16.8 %. The information that is presented for regional youth unemployment rates in Map 4 duplicates many of the patterns already observed for the total unemployment rate, although these were often amplified insofar as youth unemployment rates were consistently higher than total unemployment rates for every NUTS level 2 region in the EU. Based on information for a common reference period, these differences were particularly notable in three Romanian regions — Nord-Vest, Bucuresti - Ilfov and Centru — where the youth unemployment rate was 4.1-5.7 times as high as the total unemployment rate; the ratio between youth and total unemployment rates was also 4.1 in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire (the United Kingdom).

In the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis, youth unemployment rates remained stubbornly high in several outermost and southern regions

In 2017, the share of young persons aged 15-24 in the labour force who were unemployed remained above 50.0 % in 13 different regions of the EU-28. Four of these were located in southern Italy and three were in Greece, while this list also included two autonomous regions from Spain, a single autonomous region from Portugal, and three French overseas regions. Aside from the atypical case of Ciudad Autónoma de Melilla (Spain), the highest youth unemployment rates in the EU were recorded in the Greek regions of Voreio Aigaio (58.2 %) and Ipeiros (58.0 %). By contrast, the lowest youth unemployment rates were in Praha and the southern German region of Oberbayern (both of which had a rate of 3.8 %).
Map 4: Youth unemployment rate, by NUTS 2 regions, 2017
(% share of labour force aged 15-24)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfu3rt)

Long-term unemployment in the EU-28 was more than double the overall unemployment rate

The final section in this article provides an analysis of long-term unemployment, defined here as unemployed persons aged 15-74 years who had been without work for at least 12 months. As for youth unemployment, the long-term unemployment rate was relatively low in several regions and that this data cannot be published (due to small sample sizes) and has therefore been assimilated with data for those regions where no information is available.

Long-term unemployment may have a considerable impact on an individual’s well-being, leading to self-doubt, anxiety or depression, while people in this predicament also have a far higher risk of falling into poverty or social exclusion. Furthermore, the longer somebody remains unemployed, the less attractive they are likely to be for potential employers; this could reflect employer discrimination that prevents the long-term unemployed from receiving fair consideration for a vacancy or a depreciation in the relative importance of their past work experience and skills.

The continued high share of the long-term unemployed in total unemployment has prompted concerns about underlying levels of structural unemployment: in 2017, close to half (45.0 %) of all unemployed people in the EU-28 had been without work for at least a year. There were 61 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where a majority of people without work were long-term unemployed. This share was more than 70.0 % in: nine Greek regions — among which, the highest share of long-term unemployment in total unemployment was recorded in the capital city region of Attiki (77.3 %); three French overseas regions — including Mayotte, which had the highest share of long-term unemployment among any of the regions in the EU (83.8 %); and the Italian region of Molise (72.8 %). More generally, Map 5 shows that some of the regions with the highest long-term unemployment shares were often depressed regions that may be characterised as former industrial heartlands — such as in northern and eastern France, southern Belgium, eastern Germany, northern Italy or northern Portugal — which may have suffered from Europe’s manufacturing core moving eastwards.

At the other end of the range, there were 11 NUTS level 2 regions in 2017 where less than one fifth of all unemployed persons had been without work for at least a year. Six of these were located in Sweden — including Övre Norrland, which had the lowest long-term unemployment share of any region in the EU (12.8 %); three were located in the middle of England — including Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, which had the second lowest share (13.2 %); while the list was completed by single regions from each of Denmark and Romania — the latter being the capital city region of Bucuresti - Ilfov, which had the third lowest long-term unemployment share in the EU (13.8 %).
Map 5: Long-term unemployment share, by NUTS 2 regions, 2017
(% share of unemployed persons aged 15-74)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfu2ltu)

Source data for figures and maps

Data sources

The information presented in this article mainly pertains to annual averages derived from the labour force survey (LFS). This survey covers 33 countries, comprising the 28 EU Member States, three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and three candidate countries (Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey). The survey population generally consists of persons aged 15 and over living in private households, with definitions aligned with those provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

When analysing regional information from the LFS, it is important to bear in mind that the information presented relates to the region where the respondent has his/her permanent residence and that this may be different to the region where their place of work is situated as a result of commuter flows.

For more information:


While almost all of the Europe 2020 flagship initiatives have some relevance for labour markets, two are directly aimed at improving the employability of the workforce. An agenda for new skills and jobs (COM(2010) 682 final) sets out, through 13 key actions, to promote a substantial increase in employment rates, particularly those for women, young and older workers. Youth on the move (COM(2010) 477 final) was a Europe 2020 flagship initiative that came to an end as of December 2014. Its aim was to help young people gain the knowledge, skills and experience they needed to secure their first job, proposing 28 actions aimed at making education and training more relevant, increasing the employability of young people, as well as ensuring that young people had the right skills for the jobs of tomorrow.

In February 2013, the European Council agreed on a youth employment initiative with a budget of around EUR 6 billion for the period 2014-2020, largely to support young people not in education, employment or training. This initiative concerns any region that has a youth unemployment rate that is over 25 % and supports measures to integrate young people (in particular those who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs)) into the labour market. This was followed in April 2013 by the Youth guarantee that provides a commitment to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 years receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship, or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. In December 2016, the European Commission proposed a Communication Investing in Europe’s youth, based on three distinct actions: better opportunities to access employment (extending the Youth guarantee); better opportunities through education and training (by establishing a modern apprenticeship system); better opportunities for solidarity, learning mobility and participation (through expanding the budget for Erasmus+).

Aside from promoting the labour market position of young persons, the EU has also introduced a range of complementary measures designed to support labour markets in a broader context, among which:

  • a Council recommendation (2016/C 67/01) in February 2016 on the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market Investing in Europe’s youth;
  • a New skills agenda for Europe (COM(2016) 381 final) adopted by the European Commission in June 2016, which seeks to improve the quality and relevance of training and other ways of acquiring skills;
  • the European pillar for social rights as proclaimed in November 2017, which seeks to ensure there is a better balance between economic and social objectives, bringing about more effective and fairer labour markets and social protection systems; it sets out 20 key principles to help build a fairer Europe by strengthening the social (rather than economic) dimension of Europe, through the promotion of better working and living conditions; although it is primarily conceived for the euro area, it is applicable to all EU Member States wishing to be part of it.

EU cohesion policy invests in employment and long-term growth in Europe, supporting the Europe 2020 strategy. Investments are made in various labour market areas that are designed to boost employment and labour mobility. The European Social Fund (ESF) is the principal cohesion policy fund supporting employment and labour mobility initiatives in the EU, while the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) may be used to improve conditions for job creation. EU cohesion policy also supports labour market reforms that promote equal opportunities for all, in particular, those for women, young and old workers or ethnic minorities.

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Employment rate of the age group 15-64 by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00007)
Employment rate of the age group 20-64 by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00102)
Employment rate of the age group 55-64 by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00054)
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Long-term unemployment rate (12 months and more) by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00053)
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Regional unemployment - LFS annual series (lfst_r_lfu)
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Regional labour market statistics by degree of urbanisation (lfst_r_lfurb)

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This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook.