Statistics Explained

Labour market statistics at regional level



Data extracted in May 2022.

Planned article update: September 2023.

Highlights

In 2021, the lowest shares of youths (aged 15–29 years) who were neither in employment nor in education or training were recorded in Zeeland (the westernmost region of the Netherlands, 3.3 %) and Bratislavský kraj (the capital region of Slovakia, 4.4 %).

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis was apparent as the share of employed people usually working from home increased between 2019 and 2021 in all but three regions of the EU: in 2021, the highest share was recorded in Stockholm – the capital region of Sweden – at 40.5 %.

Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_22)

The COVID-19 crisis had a considerable impact on all European Union (EU) labour markets. With the exception of key workers, there was generally an increase in the number of people usually working from home. Other members of the labour force were impacted in different ways: some were placed on furlough schemes [1], others were made unemployed and some self-employed lost their income.

Like the lockdown measures themselves, the impact of the measures varied considerably between and within EU Member States. This reflected not only the specific restrictions that were imposed, but also local economic structures and labour market conditions. The crisis impacted particular groups within the labour market, for example, young people, temporary employees, those in precarious employment, or those working in leisure, hospitality and transport-related activities.

The asymmetric impact of the COVID-19 crisis was driven, at least in part, by the level of social contact and the feasibility of making use of technology at work. It is likely that the crisis has accelerated some labour market transformations while introducing new ones: job losses have come from many activities, including some activities in long-term decline, as well as leisure and hospitality-related activities and/or among workers with precarious employment contracts. The crisis also accelerated the introduction of digital technologies and a move towards more widespread use of flexible working arrangements.

On 4 March 2021, the European Commission set out its ambition for a stronger social EU to focus on jobs and skills, paving the way for a fair, inclusive and resilient socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan (COM(2021) 102 final) outlines a set of specific actions and headline targets for employment, skills and social protection in the EU. It includes a benchmark for the employment rate, namely that – by 2030 – at least 78 % of people aged 20–64 years should be in employment.

Towards the end of 2021, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that 2022 would be the European Year of Youth. This programme provides young people with an opportunity to build a better future that is greener, more inclusive and digital. It is designed to:

  • encourage young people, especially those with fewer opportunities, from disadvantaged backgrounds, from rural or remote areas, or belonging to vulnerable groups, to become actors for positive change;
  • promote opportunities provided by EU policies for young people to support their personal, social and professional development;
  • draw inspiration from the actions, vision and insights of young people to further strengthen common EU projects.

This chapter analyses EU labour markets and is split into four main sections, covering:

  • youths (defined here as people aged 15–29 years);
  • COVID-19 impacts, including changes in the proportion of people usually working from home;
  • regional employment, including information on employment rates and the number of hours worked;
  • regional unemployment rates, including information on labour market slack and long-term unemployment ratios.

In 2021, the population of the EU aged 15–74 years numbered 331.8 million persons. The labour force was composed of 212.5 million people within this age range, while 119.2 million people in this age range were considered to be outside the labour force, in other words economically inactive. This latter cohort is largely composed of school-age children, students, pensioners, people caring for other family members, as well as volunteers and those unable to work because of long-term sickness or disability. The EU labour force aged 15–74 years was composed of 197.6 million employed persons and 15.0 million people who were not working but were actively seeking and available for work, in other words unemployed persons.

Full article

Focus on youths

During the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis, many young people found their education disrupted with classes moving online. Others had to search for or try to retain a job in a struggling economy, with sectors traditionally employing a high number of young people – such as those related to leisure and hospitality – in lockdown and/or facing other restrictions. Some young people were physically isolated from friends and family, while others returned to or stayed in their family home. As well as their own direct experiences of the crisis, they also experienced its impact on (other) family members.

The crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to help young people who were affected by it, led in October 2020 to a Council Recommendation on A Bridge to Jobs – Reinforcing the Youth Guarantee and replacing the Council Recommendation of 22 April 2013 on establishing a Youth Guarantee 2020/C 372/01. The reinforced Youth Guarantee is a commitment by all EU Member States to ensure that every person under the age of 30 receives a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship, or a traineeship, within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education. It is backed up by significant EU financing, through the NextGenerationEU temporary instrument that forms part of the recovery plan for Europe, as well as the long-term EU budget.

In 2021, the EU’s NEET rate for youths was 13.1 %

The share of youths (aged 15–29 years) in the EU who were neither in employment nor in education and training (NEET rate) stood at 12.6 % in 2019. This rate provides a useful measure for studying the vulnerability of young people in terms of their labour market and social exclusion. The NEET rate is closely linked to economic performance and the business cycle. With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the NEET rate increased 1.2 percentage points to 13.8 % in 2020, but subsequently fell in 2021 to 13.1 %.

The infographic at the start of this chapter shows those regions with the highest and lowest shares of youths who were neither in employment nor in education and training in 2021. There were seven regions in the EU where less than 1 in 20 youths were neither in employment nor in education and training; four of these were in the Netherlands, including Zeeland that had the lowest NEET rate for youths (3.3 %) across NUTS level 2 regions. At the other end of the range, there were five regions in the EU where more than 30.0 % of all youths were neither in employment nor in education and training; four of these were in southern Italy, including Sicilia that had the highest NEET rate in the EU, at 36.3 %.

In recent years, several EU Member States have enacted new employment laws 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 cases this has resulted in a division between permanent, full-time employees and those with more precarious employment contracts. The latter are often young people and/or people with relatively low levels of educational attainment. This may explain, at least to some degree, why young people in the labour market generally fare worse during economic downturns such as the global financial and economic crisis or the COVID-19 crisis. During a downturn, employers are also less likely to recruit new workers (young people coming into the labour market) or to replace older workers who retire.

The EU’s youth unemployment rate was 13.0 %

One of the most pressing concerns in the area of social and employment policymaking is 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).

The youth (defined here as people aged 15–29 years) unemployment rate in the EU fell from a peak of 19.8 % in 2013 to 11.9 % by 2019, before rising to 13.3 % in 2020 and then falling slightly to 13.0 % in 2021. The COVID-19 crisis and its associated measures disproportionately impacted on young people in unemployment terms: the youth unemployment rate rose 1.4 percentage points in 2020, while the overall unemployment rate increased 0.4 points.

Note that the youth unemployment rate is based on the same principles as the definition for the overall unemployment rate, in that it is calculated as a share of the labour force. As such, when the youth unemployment rate is 13.0 %, this does not mean that 13.0 % of all youths are unemployed. Rather, 13.0 % of youths who are in the labour force are unemployed (and the remaining 87.0 % are employed), while youths outside the labour market (for example studying) are neither in the numerator nor the denominator used to calculate this ratio.

In 2021, relatively low youth unemployment rates were concentrated in a group of regions that covered an area running through much of Germany (data often refer to 2019) and Czechia, as well as several regions in Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands. Map 1 shows there were 19 regions overall where the latest youth unemployment rate was less than 5.0 % (as shown by the lightest shade of yellow). Excluding those regions from Germany (where data refer to 2019), the lowest youth unemployment rates were recorded in eastern regions of the EU: four regions in Czechia – including Jihozápad, that had the lowest rate among NUTS level 2 regions, at 3.7 % – three regions in Hungary (including the capital region of Budapest), and Wielkopolskie in Poland.

High youth unemployment rates were concentrated in southern Europe. There were 23 regions where 30.0 % or more of the labour force aged 15–29 years was unemployed (as shown by the darkest shade of blue). This group included six regions from each of Greece, Spain and Italy, as well as Corse and four outermost regions of France (note the latest data available for Corse and Mayotte refer to 2020). At the top end of the range, there were six, largely peripheral or remote regions where the youth unemployment rate was higher than 40.0 %: Ciudades Autónomas de Ceuta y Melilla (two regions in Spain), Anatoliki Makedonia, Thraki and Dytiki Makedonia (two regions in Greece), Mayotte in France, and Sicilia in Italy.

The EU's youth unemployment rate (13.0 %) was almost twice as high as the overall unemployment rate (7.0 %) in 2021. To give some idea of the disproportionate incidence of unemployment among people aged 15–29 years, the youth unemployment rate in 2021 was consistently higher than the overall unemployment rate (for people aged 15–74 years) in each of the 192 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available. In close to half (46.4 %) of these 192 regions, the youth unemployment rate was at least twice as high as the overall unemployment rate. The highest ratio between these two rates was recorded in Vest in Romania, where the youth unemployment rate was 3.5 times as high as the overall unemployment rate, while relatively high ratios (2.8 or 2.9 times as high) were recorded in Basilicata and Molise in southern Italy, and Prov. Vlaams-Brabant in Belgium.

Map 1: Youth unemployment rate, 2021
(% of labour force, people aged 15–29, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfu3rt)

Focus on COVID-19 impacts

During the COVID-19 crisis, a large proportion of the labour force was faced with changing patterns of work. For health workers, this often meant working longer hours and/or in more challenging circumstances. For others it meant working from home or accepting a temporary lay-off, in other words reducing (partly or completely) their working time for technical or economic reasons (sometimes supported by government schemes designed to encourage employers to retain their workforce).

The share of employed people working from home grew at its fastest pace in capital regions and other urban regions

In 2019, approximately 1 in 20 (5.5 %) employed people aged 20–64 years in the EU usually worked from home. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis was apparent as this share more than doubled in 2020 – increasing by 6.8 percentage points – to 12.3 %. Although the annual rate of change slowed, there was a further increase in the share of people usually working from home in 2021, as it reached 13.5 %. The regional distribution of working from home was somewhat skewed, insofar as there were 95 NUTS level 2 regions where this share was above the EU average in 2021, compared with 140 regions that recorded lower than average shares.

In Stockholm – the capital region of Sweden – two out of every five employed people (or 40.5 %) were usually working from home in 2021. This was the highest share across NUTS level 2 regions, with two more capital regions recording the next highest shares: some 39.3 % of employed people were usually working from home in Eastern and Midland in Ireland, while the share was slightly lower in Helsinki-Uusimaa in Finland, at 37.0 %. The other seven regions that featured among those with the highest shares of employed people usually working from home were either capital regions – Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest in Belgium (32.9 %) and Ile-de-France in France (29.2 %) – or predominantly urban regions from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Working from home was less prevalent across many of the eastern and southern regions of the EU. In 2021 (2020 for some regions), there were 43 regions where less than 5.0 % of employed people were usually working from home. These included all four of the regions in Bulgaria (for which data are available), all but one of the regions in Croatia, Hungary and Romania (the only exceptions being the capital regions of Grad Zagreb, Budapest and Bucureşti-Ilfov), a majority of the regions in Greece, several regions from Poland and Italy, as well as one region each from Czechia, Spain and Slovakia.

The extent of the increase in homeworking reflects, at least to some degree, the economic structure of each region, with greater homeworking opportunities for those employed in professional, financial, information and communication, education and government sectors. By contrast, there were likely to be fewer opportunities for homeworking for people employed in manufacturing or distributive trades.

As noted above, the share of employed people in the EU usually working from home rose by 8.0 percentage points between 2019 and 2021. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the right-hand side of Figure 1 concerns the rapid increase in the proportion of employed people who were working from home in several capital and urban regions. For example, there were increases of 33.1 and 32.8 percentage points in Eastern and Midland and in Stockholm. In other words, when comparing the situation pre-pandemic with the situation in 2021, the share of employed people usually working from home increased in these two capital regions by an amount that was more than four times as high as the increase for the EU average. In a similar vein, there was a cluster of three neighbouring Belgian regions – Prov. Brabant Wallon, Prov. Vlaams-Brabant and Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest (the capital region) – where the share of employed people usually working from home rose by more than three times the EU average during the period under consideration.

By contrast, there were three regions in the EU where the share of employed persons usually working from home fell between 2019 and 2021; in each case, the decline in homeworking was relatively small. Zeeland in the Netherlands recorded a fall of 0.5 percentage points, Podlaskie in Poland a fall of 1.0 points, and Região Autónoma da Madeira in Portugal a fall of 1.4 points.

Figure 1: Employed people usually working from home, 2021
(people aged 20–64, selected NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (Labour force survey)

Hovedstaden – the Danish capital region – was the only region in the EU where more than one third of employed persons had been in their current job for less than 24 months

Historically, it was relatively normal for someone to work throughout their whole career for the same employer. In recent decades, some labour markets in the EU have undergone a considerable transformation and it is now far more common for people to change jobs quite frequently. Job tenure refers to the length of time that an employed person has been in a job. During a recession, or a period of economic shock, it is common for this measure to increase, as short-tenured jobs are lost (those who were hired last tend to be fired first) and relatively few new jobs are created. As the economy recovers, employers start to hire new staff, thereby reducing average tenure (as those that start a new job have, by definition, zero tenure).

In 2019, the share of employed people (aged 20–64 years) in the EU who had been in their current job for less than 24 months was 22.2 %. Following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, this proportion fell to 20.7 % in 2020 and it remained at the same level in 2021. This pattern may be explained, at least in part, by employers being more likely to lay-off people with a relatively short tenure (as they have a lower cost of dismissal) and those with precarious employment contracts, rather than dismiss experienced members of staff.

Map 2 shows the share of employed people (aged 20–64 years) by employment tenure. In 2021, just over one third (34.1 %) of all employed persons working in Hovedstaden – the Danish capital region – had been employed in their current job for less than 24 months; this was the highest share in the EU among NUTS level 2 regions. There were 28 regions across the EU where the share of employed people who had been in their current job for less than 24 months was at least 26.0 % (as shown by the darkest shade of blue). These regions were concentrated in northern and western regions of the EU. They included every region of Denmark, all of the regions in Finland (for which data are available) and almost half of the regions in the Netherlands (including the capital region of Noord-Holland). There were four other capital regions where a high share of those employed had been in their current job for less than 24 months: Wien in Austria, Cyprus, Berlin in Germany, and Stockholm in Sweden.

In 2021, there were 24 regions (or approximately 1 in 10 regions across the EU) where the share of employed people who had been in their current job for less than 24 months was less than 15.0 % (as shown by the lightest shade of yellow in Map 2). They included six regions that recorded a single-digit share: Yugozapaden in Bulgaria (9.8 %) and five regions in Romania, including the capital region of Bucureşti-Ilfov, each with shares in the range of 8.2–8.9 %. The lowest share of employed people who had been in their current job for less than 24 months was in Sud-Vest Oltenia, at 8.2 %.

Map 2: Share of employed people who have been in their current job for less than 24 months, 2021
(%, people aged 20–64, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_egad)

Employment

The employment rate is the ratio of employed persons (of a given age) relative to the total population (of the same age). Within this section, data are presented for people aged 20–64 years. The choice of this age range reflects the growing proportion of young people who remain within education systems into their late teens (and beyond), potentially restricting their participation in the labour market, while at the other end of the age spectrum the vast majority of people in the EU are retired after the age of 64.

Increasing the number of people in work has been one of the EU’s main policy objectives in recent decades. It has been part of the European employment strategy (EES) from its outset in 1997 and was subsequently incorporated as a target in the Lisbon and Europe 2020 strategies. The employment rate is also included as one of the indicators in the social scoreboard which is used to monitor the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

As part of its work to put in place a strong social EU that focuses on jobs and skills for the future, the European Commission has made a number of proposals to address the challenges linked to new societal, technological and economic developments, as well as the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Alongside initiatives providing support for youth employment and adequate minimum wages, the European Commission has also provided guidance designed to support a job-rich recovery: Commission Recommendation on an effective active support to employment following the COVID-19 crisis (EASE) (C(2021) 1372 final). The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan proposes three ambitious headline targets for 2030. Among these, the EU has set itself a goal whereby at least 78 % of the population aged 20–64 years should be in employment by 2030.

The EU employment rate was 73.1 % in 2021, above its pre-pandemic level

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU’s employment rate for the working-age population (20–64 years) had increased for six consecutive years to 72.7 % in 2019; this pattern came to an abrupt end in 2020 as the rate fell by 1.0 percentage points. In 2021, the employment rate recovered all of its losses during the crisis, as it rebounded to 73.1 %, somewhat above its pre-pandemic level.

Map 3 presents the employment rate for NUTS level 2 regions: those regions with rates equal to or above 78.0 % are shown in shades of blue. In 2021, almost one third of all regions (77 out of the 242 for which data are available) in the EU had already reached or surpassed this level. These regions were concentrated across much of Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Looking in more detail, the highest regional employment rate in 2021 was recorded in the island region of Åland (Finland), at 89.1 %. Leaving this atypical region aside, the next highest rates were in the Netherlands and Sweden: Noord-Brabant (84.1 %) and Utrecht (84.0 %), Mellersta Norrland (84.0 %) and Stockholm (83.8 %). There were several other capital regions with relatively high employment rates, including Warszawski stołeczny in Poland (83.7 %), Sostinės regionas in Lithuania (83.6 %), and Bratislavský kraj in Slovakia (83.4 %). Three German regions – Unterfranken, Chemnitz and Niederbayern, together with Zeeland in the Netherlands – had similarly high rates (83.4–83.5 %).

Rural, sparsely-populated or peripheral regions recorded some of the lowest regional employment rates in the EU. This pattern was apparent in Spain and Italy (particularly the southern parts), much of Greece, and the outermost regions of France. Most of these regions were characterised by a lack of intermediate and highly-skilled employment opportunities.

Former industrial heartlands that have not adapted economically make up another group of regions characterised by relatively low employment rates. Some of these have witnessed the negative impact of globalisation on traditional areas of their economies (such as coal mining, steel or textiles manufacturing). Examples include a band of regions running from north-east France into the Région Wallonne (Belgium).

More than one quarter (64 out of the 242 regions for which data are available) of all EU regions had an employment rate that was below 69.5 % in 2021 (as shown by the two darkest shades of yellow in Map 3). Among these, there were five regions – Sicilia, Campania and Calabria (in southern Italy) as well as Mayotte (2020 data) and Guyane (outermost regions of France) – where less than half of the working-age population was employed.

There was often a stark contrast in employment rates for capital regions

Within individual EU Member States, there were often relatively large differences in employment rates between regions. For example, in most of the eastern and Baltic Member States that were multi-regional it was common to find the capital region had the highest employment rate, as was the case in Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia in 2021; this was also the case in Denmark, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. The situation was reversed in a number of western Member States – for example, Belgium and Austria – where the capital region had one of the lowest regional employment rates.

Map 3: Employment rate, 2021
(%, people aged 20–64, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfe2emprtn)

In 2019, employed persons (aged 20–64 years) in the EU worked, on average, 36.8 hours per week in their main job. With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, this figure fell 0.6 hours per week in 2020, before a modest rebound of 0.2 hours per week in 2021.

Figure 2 shows the average number of hours worked in a main job for selected NUTS level 2 regions. In 2021, women in the EU worked an average of 33.4 hours in paid employment, which was 5.4 hours less than the average figure for men (38.8 hours). Working time varied greatly between EU Member States and between the sexes, reflecting among other factors, the propensity for people to work on a part-time basis. This is apparent when looking at the average number of weekly hours worked among women, as Dutch regions occupied the bottom 10 positions in the ranking; note a relatively high share of both women and men in the Netherlands work on a part-time basis. In 2021, the lowest numbers of actual weekly hours in a main job were recorded in Groningen: 25.5 hours for women (Zeeland had the same value for women) and 34.7 hours for men.

By contrast, the highest number of weekly hours worked in a main job tended to be concentrated in Greek or in eastern regions of the EU. Ionia Nisia in Greece had the highest value both for women (43.7 hours) and for men (46.2 hours). There were four other regions in the EU where the average working week for women had a duration of at least 40.0 hours: Yugoiztochen and Yuzhen tsentralen in Bulgaria, and Peloponnisos and Notio Aigaio in Greece. For men, there were 40 regions across the EU where the average working week was at least 40.0 hours: they included every region of Greece, all but one of the regions in Poland (the exception being Podkarpackie), and a majority of the regions in Romania. At the top of the range, there were three regions in Greece where the working week for men exceeded 45.0 hours: Ionia Nisia, Peloponnisos and Sterea Elláda.

Figure 2: Average number of actual weekly hours in main job, 2021
(number of hours, people aged 20–64, selected NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfe2ehrwa)

Unemployment

Unemployment can have a bearing not just on the macroeconomic performance of a country (lowering productive capacity) but also on the well-being of individuals without work and their families. The personal and social costs of unemployment are varied and include a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion, debt or homelessness, while the stigma of being unemployed may have a potentially detrimental impact on (mental) health.

After six consecutive years of falling unemployment, the EU unemployment rate among people aged 15–74 years increased with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, rising 0.4 percentage points in 2020; there was a partial recovery in 2021 as the rate fell 0.2 points. In 2021, there were 15.0 million unemployed people in the EU, while the unemployment rate was 7.0 %.

Map 4 shows unemployment rates across NUTS level 2 regions: the highest rates in 2021 – as shown by the darkest shade of blue – were recorded in southern and outermost regions of the EU. In 2021, regional unemployment rates of at least 14.5 % were recorded in 9 of the 13 regions from Greece (the exceptions being the capital region of Attiki, Peloponnisos, Ionia Nisia and Voreio Aigaio), eight regions from Spain, four of the outermost regions of France (Mayotte; 2020 data), and four regions from the southern half of Italy.

The lowest rates – as shown by the lightest shade of yellow – were largely concentrated in a cluster of regions that stretched from Germany into Poland, Czechia and Hungary; there were also relatively low unemployment rates – less than 3.0 % – in Bratislavský kraj (the capital region of Slovakia) and Prov. Oost-Vlaanderen (in northern Belgium). The lowest unemployment rates of all were recorded in: Střední Morava and Praha in Czechia; Közép-Dunántúl and Nyugat-Dunántúl in Hungary; Warszawski stołeczny, Wielkopolskie and Pomorskie in Poland. Each of these seven regions had an unemployment rate within the range of 2.1–2.3 %. The unemployment rate was also very low in the German regions of Niederbayern, Unterfranken, Trier, Oberpfalz, Oberfranken and Koblenz, as well as in the Polish region of Lubuskie (all 2019 data).

To look at COVID-19 impacts on the labour market, a comparison of regional unemployment rates between 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2021 reveals that more than 60 % (141 out of 224) of NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available had a higher unemployment rate in 2021, with 75 regions recording a lower unemployment rate, and no change in eight regions [2]. Some of the largest increases in unemployment rates were recorded in popular tourist destinations: Notio Aigaio and Kriti in Greece, Jadranska Hrvatska in Croatia, Illes Balears and Canarias in Spain, Corse in France, Wien (the capital region of Austria) and Tirol in Austria. Unemployment rates also rose by more than 2.5 percentage points during the period under consideration in Nord-Est, Sud-Vest Oltenia and Sud-Muntenia in Romania, and Prov. Liège in Belgium.

Map 4: Unemployment rate, 2021
(% of labour force, people aged 15–74, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfu3rt)

Most people in the EU labour force that become unemployed remain without work for a relatively short period of time (a matter of a few weeks or months). However, for some unemployed people the period without work can last much longer. Long-term unemployment concerns people who have been without work for at least 12 months. The long-term unemployment ratio is defined as the number of people who have been unemployed for at least a year as a proportion of all unemployed people.

The reasons why people may find themselves in long-term unemployment are many and varied. One of the causes is a lack of skills that are relevant to the local demand from employers: this can inhibit a successful transition from being out of work to being in employment. The longer people are unemployed, their skills may become more outdated and they may become more discouraged, thereby reinforcing their difficulties to find work. As a result, some people can be locked into a vicious spiral, with long-term unemployment closely linked to poverty and social exclusion.

Figure 3 shows the NUTS level 2 regions in the EU with the highest and lowest long-term unemployment ratios. In 2021, approximately one fifth of EU regions reported that more than half of all unemployed persons had been without work for at least 12 months. Some of the highest long-term unemployment ratios were concentrated in Greece, with a peak in Sterea Elláda (79.0 %); a higher value was recorded in Mayotte (83.9 %) for 2020. At the other end of the range, there were 11 regions in the EU where less than 20.0 % of all unemployed persons in 2021 had been without work for at least 12 months; this was also the case for Wielkopolskie in Poland (2019 data). These regions with relatively low long-term unemployment ratios were principally concentrated in Denmark and the Netherlands, but also included Praha (the capital region of Czechia), Västsverige in Sweden and Prov. West-Vlaanderen in Belgium. The lowest long-term unemployment ratios were recorded in the Dutch region of Noord-Brabant (15.6 %) and the Danish region of Syddanmark (16.9 %).

Figure 3: Long-term unemployment ratio, 2021
(% of unemployed, people aged 15–74, selected NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_lfu2ltu)

For many years, official statistics have measured the unemployment rate, in other words, the share of the labour force that is without work but looking for and being available to work. However, these figures may underestimate the demand for employment: besides unemployed people, there are other groups who may be interested in extending their working hours or returning to the labour force. In order to better reflect this potential demand, an indicator for labour market slack takes account of i) unemployed people, ii) underemployed part-time workers (who want to work more), iii) people who are available to work but are not looking for work, and iv) people who are looking for work but are not immediately available to work. While the first two of these subpopulations are part of the labour force, the other two are outside the labour force and are considered as part of the potential additional labour force (to some degree, they may be viewed as representing ‘employment demand’).

To allow comparisons between these four groups, which do not all belong to the labour force, the concept of ‘extended labour force’ is used. It includes people: a) in the labour force (unemployed and employed) and b) in the potential additional labour force (the two categories outside the labour force, in other words, those available but not seeking, and those seeking but not available). The total unmet demand for employment (also known as labour market slack) is expressed as a percentage of this extended labour force.

In 2021, labour market slack in the EU amounted to 14.0 % of the extended labour force among people aged 15–74 years. Less than half of this figure (6.7 %; note that the denominator here is the extended labour force, not – as previously – the labour force) corresponded to unemployed people, while slightly more than half was composed of the other three groups described above.

Map 5 shows labour market slack for NUTS level 2 regions. Its regional distribution was relatively normal, insofar as 132 out of 242 regions (or 54.5 %) reported shares below the EU average, with the remainder (45.5 %) recording shares that were equal to or above the EU average. Nevertheless, there was a stark spatial divide: unmet demand for employment was a relatively high share of the extended labour force in several of the southern EU Member States, while labour market slack impacted a relatively low share of the extended labour force in most eastern EU Member States.

The highest shares of labour market slack – of at least 24.0 % of the extended labour force – are shown by the darkest shade of blue in Map 5. They were concentrated in just four of the EU Member States: seven regions in each of Spain and Italy, six regions in Greece, as well as the five outermost regions of France (Mayotte; 2020 data). The lowest levels of labour market slack – less than 5.5 % of the extended labour force – are shown in the lightest shade of yellow. They were mainly in eastern EU Member States and included the capital regions of Bulgaria, Czechia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia; there were also three regions in southern Germany that had low levels of labour market slack.

In 2021, the share of the extended labour force with unmet demand for employment ranged from 3.1 % in Bratislavský kraj (the capital region of Slovakia) to 41.4 % in the island region of Sicilia in Italy (excluding older data for Mayotte in France).

In many eastern regions of the EU, it was relatively common to find that unemployment accounted for a high proportion of labour market slack, in other words, there were relatively few people who were underemployed, seeking work but not immediately available, or available to work but not seeking. This was particularly notable in the Romanian and Slovak capital regions of Bucureşti-Ilfov and Bratislavský kraj where unemployment made up more than four fifths of labour market slack. By contrast, all of the regions in the Netherlands were characterised by a high share of their labour market slack being accounted for by underemployed part-time workers or those who wish to work additional hours and are available to do so.

Map 5: Labour market slack, 2021
(% of extended labour force, people aged 15–74, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (lfst_r_sla_ga)

Source data for figures and maps

Excel.jpg Labour market at regional level

Data sources

The information presented in this chapter relates to annual averages derived from the labour force survey (LFS). Eurostat compiles and publishes labour market statistics for the EU, the individual EU Member States, as well as the EU regions. In addition, data are also available for several EFTA countries – Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – and candidate countries – Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey – and their statistical regions. The LFS population generally consists of persons aged 15 years and over living in private households, with definitions aligned with those provided by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The collection of LFS data up to and including reference year 2020 was conducted by national statistical authorities in accordance with Council Regulation (EEC) No 577/98 of 9 March 1998. There is a new legal basis for LFS data from 2021 onwards: Regulation (EU) 2019/1700 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 October 2019 establishing a common framework for European statistics relating to persons and households, based on data at individual level collected from samples and its implementing regulation Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2240 of 16 December 2019 specifying the technical items of the data set, establishing the technical formats for transmission of information and specifying the detailed arrangements and content of the quality reports on the organisation of a sample survey in the labour force domain in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2019/1700. This new legal basis implies a break in series between 2020 and 2021; results obtained before and after 1 January 2021 are consequently not fully comparable.

LFS microdata are collected through a survey to obtain information on an individual’s demographic background, labour status, employment characteristics of their main job, hours worked, employment characteristics of their second job, time-related underemployment, the search for employment, education and training, previous work experience of persons not in employment, their situation one year before the survey, their main labour status and their income. These statistics are aggregated by region and are generally published down to NUTS level 2. That said, some regional labour market statistics are compiled/transmitted for NUTS level 3 regions, although this is on a voluntary basis.

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.

It is important to note that changes in the survey methodology have led to a break in German data for 2020. Estimates for 2020 can therefore not be compared directly with those of previous years. In addition, data collection during 2020 was impacted by technical issues and COVID-19 measures. The German data published therefore show a low degree of reliability for some regions. They should be considered as preliminary data and may be revised in the future. For more information, see this note.

Note also that the actual net sample for Corse is too small to have reliable regional results and that Mayotte is covered by a specific annual survey. As a result, data for these two French regions for 2020 should also be treated with caution.

Indicator definitions

Average number of actual weekly hours in main job

The number of hours actually worked is defined as the sum of all periods spent on direct and ancillary work activities. This includes all hours worked including overtime, regardless of whether they were paid, and short breaks (such as for a drink), as well as education and training which is necessary to carry out working activities. It excludes travel time between home and the workplace, as well as main meal breaks (normally taken at midday), as well as absences from work within the working period for personal reasons (such as a visit to the doctor). The number of hours actually worked may be contrasted with the number of hours usually worked (which is collected with respect to the period over the last one to three months prior to the survey). The average number of actual weekly hours in a main job is computed as the total sum of all hours actually worked divided by the number of people who had worked at least one hour in their main job during the reference week of the survey.

Employed person

In the context of the LFS, an employed person is a person aged 15 to 89 years who, during the reference week, performed work – even if just for one hour a week – for pay, profit or family gain. Alternatively, the person was not at work, but had a job or business from which he or she was temporarily absent due to illness, holiday, industrial dispute or education and training. This definition follows guidelines of the ILO.

Employment rate

The employment rate is the percentage of employed persons in relation to the comparable total population. For the overall employment rate, the comparison is made within the population of working-age (defined in this publication as people aged 20–64 years). However, employment rates can also be calculated for a particular age group and/or gender – for example, males aged 15–24 years.

Labour force

The labour force includes all people who were either employed or unemployed during the reference week. This aggregate includes all persons offering their work capacity on the labour market: the supply side of the market.

Labour market slack

Labour market slack refers to the sum of all unmet employment demands and includes four groups: i) unemployed people as defined by the ILO; ii) underemployed part-time workers (in other words, part-time workers who want to work more); iii) people who are available to work but are not looking for work; and iv) people who are looking for work but are not available for work. While the first two groups are in the labour force, the last two, also referred to as the ‘potential additional labour force’, are both outside the traditional scope of the labour force.

Long-term unemployment ratio

See below for a definition of the unemployment rate. Long-term unemployment is defined as someone who has been unemployed for at least a year. The long-term unemployment ratio is defined as the number of people who have been unemployed for at least a year as a proportion of all unemployed people.

Persons usually working from home

Working from home means doing any productive work related to a person’s current main job at home; this concept also covers self-employed people, who work wholly or partly at home (for example, in a part of their living accommodation set aside for the purpose). In this context, persons ‘usually’ working from home, should be interpreted to mean those who worked at home at least half of the total number of days worked in a reference period of four weeks preceding the end of the reference week for the LFS.

Unemployed person

Eurostat‘s unemployment statistics are based on ILO guidelines. An unemployed person is defined as someone aged 15–74 years who is without work, but who has actively sought employment in the previous four weeks (or has already found a job to start within the subsequent three months) and is available to begin work within the next two weeks.

Unemployment rate

The unemployment rate is defined as the number of unemployed persons expressed as a percentage of the total labour force.

Youth unemployment rate

For the purpose of this publication, the youth unemployment rate is defined as the number of unemployed people aged 15–29 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 15–29 years are outside the labour force as they study full-time and are not working.

Young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEETs)

The share of people who are neither in employment nor in education and training, abbreviated as NEETs, corresponds to the share of the population (of a given age group and sex) that is not employed and not involved in further (formal or non-formal) education or training (during the four weeks preceding the survey). The numerator of the indicator refers to persons meeting these two conditions, while the denominator is the total population (of the same age group and sex), excluding those respondents who did not answer the question (in the survey) about participation in regular (formal) education and training. For the purpose of this publication the share of young people neither in employment nor in education or training relates to those aged 15–29 years.

Context

There are six European Commission priorities for 2019–2024, including the creation of ‘An economy that works for people’, whereby the EU seeks to create a more attractive investment environment, and growth that creates quality jobs, especially for young people and small businesses. Some of the principal challenges outlined by President von der Leyen include: fully implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights; ensuring that workers have at least a fair minimum wage; promoting a better work-life balance; tackling gender pay gaps and other forms of workplace discrimination; getting more disabled people into work; and protecting people who are unemployed.

Since the end of 2019, the European Commission has contributed to the implementation of the social pillar principles with, among other initiatives, the following.

At the beginning of March 2021, the European Commission outlined the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. It provides specific actions to implement the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights through the active involvement of social partners and civil society. Furthermore, it proposes a number of employment, skills and social protection targets to be achieved by 2030. One of the headline targets relates specifically to labour markets, namely that at least 78 % of people aged 20–64 years should be in employment by 2030.

Also early in March 2021, the European Commission presented a Recommendation (EU) 2021/402 of 4 March 2021 on an effective active support to employment following the COVID-19 pandemic (EASE) (C(2021) 1372 final). This sought to provide guidance on policy measures that are backed by EU funding to encourage job creation and job transitions in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, notably within the green and digital economies. Measures outlined in the recommendation are eligible for support from the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), as well as a number of other EU funds including the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) is the EU’s main instrument dedicated to investing in people. It aims to build a more social and inclusive EU. Regulation (EU) 2021/1057 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) entered into force on 1 July 2021 providing a key financial instrument for implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights and supporting a post-pandemic recovery. The ESF+ has a total budget of €99.3 billion for the period 2021–2027 and will support people by creating and protecting job opportunities, promoting social inclusion and fighting poverty; it has ambitious goals for investing in young people and addressing child poverty. It also aims to encourage high employment levels, fair social protection and a skilled and resilient workforce ready for the transition to a green and digital economy.

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Notes

  1. Also known by other names, such as temporary lay-off or technical unemployment. In a furlough scheme, for a fixed or open-ended period of time employees were not required to work but were not made unemployed. Depending on the details of specific schemes: the workers received full, reduced or no pay; the employers received full, partial or no financial support from public authorities. Furlough schemes helped employers to retain employees during economically difficult times, with the intention of the employees returning to work for the same employer at the end of the scheme.
  2. Note, however, that a new EU regulation governing data collection for unemployment has recently come into force; as a result 2021 data are not fully comparable with those for 2019.
Regional labour market statistics (t_reg_lmk)
Employment rate of the age group 20–64 by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00102)
Unemployment rate by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00010)
LFS series – Specific topics (t_lfst)


Regional labour market statistics (reg_lmk)
LFS series - detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
Employment – LFS series (lfsa_emp)
Employment rates – LFS series (lfsa_emprt)
Self-employed – LFS series (lfsa_empself)
Working time – LFS series (lfsa_wrktime)
Total unemployment – LFS series (lfsa_unemp)
LFS series – Specific topics (lfst)
LFS regional series (lfst_r)
Regional employment – LFS annual series (lfst_r_lfemp)
Regional unemployment – LFS annual series (lfst_r_lfu)

Maps can be explored interactively using Eurostat’s statistical atlas (see user manual).

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