Unemployment statistics and beyond


Data extracted in June 2021.

Planned article update: June 2022.

Highlights


After six consecutive years of decrease, the EU unemployment rate increased in 2020 and reached 7.0 %, up from 6.7 % in 2019.
At EU level, from 2019 to 2020, the youth unemployment rate increased from 15.0 % to 16.8 %, while the unemployment rate for people aged 55-74 remained stable at 4.8 %.
The increase in the unemployment rate between 2019 and 2020 was highest in the Baltic countries: Estonia (+2.4 percentage points), Lithuania (+2.2 p.p.) and Latvia (+1.8 p.p.).


Unemployment rate (total, female, male, youth and senior), 2005-2020
Source: Eurostat


This article focuses on the annual statistics on unemployment in the European Union (EU) and the individual Member States. A separate article on unemployment statistics presents the unemployment figures on a monthly basis. An article on Labour market slack – annual statistics on unmet needs for employment is also available, focusing on the three measures of labour market attachment supplementing the unemployment rate.

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. In addition to that, the COVID-19 crisis also greatly affected unemployment in 2020.

Please take note that numbers and rates shown in the tools may differ in some cases with those mentioned in the text due to continuous revision of the source data: the tools refer to the most recent data (as shown in the Eurostat database under Employment and unemployment (Labour Force Survey) (employ)), while the text refers to data from June 2021.


Full article

How did the COVID-19 crisis affect unemployment ?

The interactive line chart (see Tool 1) shows how each country's unemployment rate has changed since 2005. By clicking on the icons at the bottom of the tool, development for specific breakdowns of the unemployment rate can be observed: from left to right, you can switch from the total active population to women, men, youth and senior population, respectively.

Following six consecutive years of decrease, the unemployment rate for the total EU population aged 15-74 increased in 2020, the year marked by the COVID-19 crisis, and reached 7.0 % of the active population, up from 6.7 % in 2019. In addition, unemployed people numbered 14.9 million in 2020, an increase of 0.7 million from the previous year.

The unemployment rate also increased in the vast majority of EU Member States (23 out of 27 countries) in comparison with 2019, with the largest increases, measured in percentage points (p.p.), found in Estonia (+2.4 p.p.) and Lithuania (+2.2 p.p.). In addition, increases between 1 p.p. and 2 p.p. were recorded in Latvia (+1.8 p.p.), Sweden (+1.5 p.p.), Spain (+1.4 p.p.), Luxembourg (+1.2 p.p.), Romania and Finland (both +1.1 p.p.). On the other hand, the unemployment rate fell from 2019 to 2020 in four EU countries, with the greatest decrease recorded in Greece (-1.0 p.p.), followed by Italy (-0.8 p.p.), France (-0.4 p.p.) (France Metropolitan (-0.3 p.p.)) and Poland (-0.1 p.p.).

It is worth noting that the unemployment rate in 2020 increased for the first time in Latvia and Malta after nine consecutive years of decrease, and in Hungary, Ireland and Denmark after seven consecutive years of decrease. Germany marked an even longer period of decrease - ten years - before an increase in the national unemployment rate in 2020. However, due to a break in the time series, the 2020 results for Germany should be analysed cautiously.

Tool 1: Unemployment rate (total, female, male, youth and senior), 2005-2020
Source: Eurostat


Looking at the long-term evolution, countries have experienced very different labour market situations in the period between 2005 and 2020. In 2008, the financial crisis took place. Unemployment then increased between 2008 and 2009 in almost all EU Member States (similarly to what has been seen with the COVID-19 crisis in 2020), Baltic countries were the most impacted with the largest increase found in Latvia (+9.8 p.p.), followed by Estonia and Lithuania (both +8.0 p.p.). At EU level, the unemployment rate jumped from 7.2 % in 2008 to 9.1 % in 2009, and then rose constantly until 2013, reaching 11.4 %. In the 5-year period between 2008 and 2013, the unemployment rate increased around four times in Cyprus (from 3.7 % in 2008 to 15.9 % in 2013) and Greece (from 7.8 % in 2008 to 27.5 % in 2013), while it doubled in nine other EU Member States over the same period. The highest unemployment rate recorded in that 5-year period was 27.5 % in Greece in 2013. For reference, the unemployment rate in Greece and Cyprus in 2020 was 16.3 % and 7.6 % respectively. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in Greece has remained the highest among the Member States in all years since 2013.

It might be useful to remember that to be considered unemployed according to the ILO's criteria, a person should not have worked during the reference week, or be available to start working within the next two weeks (or has already found a job to start within the next three months) and have actively sought employment at some point during the last four weeks. However, due to the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, which led to people’s confinement in their homes and the lockdown of some businesses, the active job search and availability to work have been hampered in 2020. This might explain the milder impact of the COVID-19 crisis on unemployment in comparison with the prior financial crisis.

What are the differences between men and women ?

The unemployment rate of women and men between 2005 and 2020 for each country is available in the second and third icons of Tool 1. For a large majority of years and countries, women record a higher unemployment rate than men. This is also true for the EU as a whole, where the gender unemployment gap has nevertheless narrowed from 1.8 p.p. in 2005 to 0.5 p.p. in 2020. The unemployment rate in the EU stood at 6.8 % for men and at 7.3 % for women in 2020.

Looking at the particular situation of each country, differences are visible as regards the unemployment gender gap. Greece is the EU Member State where the unemployment rate of women is the highest compared with that of men: in 2020, unemployed women represented almost one-fifth of the Greek women in the labour force (unemployment rate of 19.8 %), whereas the corresponding share for men was 13.6 %. Furthermore, the gender gap in this country has been the highest in the EU in most years since 2005, as the female unemployment rate in Greece during this period has been always at least 6 p.p. higher than men’s. Nevertheless, this gap narrowed over the years, from 9.2 p.p. in 2005 to 6.2 p.p. in 2020. By contrast, in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Hungary the unemployment gender gap has been always less than 1 p.p. over the years since 2005. Finally, Latvia and Romania also stand out from the other Member States, namely with a higher unemployment rate for men than for women in the period 2005-2020. This was also the case in Estonia, except in 2019.

Are youths more exposed to unemployment than seniors ?

Tool 1 shows that the youth unemployment rate (persons between 15 and 24 years old) has always been higher than the total unemployment rate (persons aged 15-74) for all countries since 2005 (comparing data via the fourth and the first icon of Tool 1). For persons aged 55-74, the opposite can be observed: in most countries, the senior unemployment rate has been lower than the total unemployment rate (comparing data via the fifth and the first icon of Tool 1); only Germany and the Netherlands recorded higher unemployment rates for older people over several consecutive years.

From 2019 to 2020, in the EU, youth unemployment sharply increased by 1.8 p.p. and reached 16.8 %, while the unemployment for people aged 55-74 remained stable at 4.8 %. Almost all Member States had higher youth unemployment in 2020 in comparison with 2019 (see Figure 1). The increase even surpassed 5 p.p. in Bulgaria (+5.3 p.p.), Spain (+5.8 p.p.), Slovenia (+6.1 p.p.), Luxembourg (+6.2 p.p.), Estonia (+6.8 p.p.) and Lithuania (+7.7 p.p.). The only country to record a decrease between 2019 and 2020 in youth unemployment was Greece (-0.2 p.p.). On the other hand, few Member States had an increase in the unemployment rate for people aged 55-74, and the increase was milder than for the youth unemployment rate. Out of the 15 EU countries with an increase in the unemployment rate for people aged 55-74 between 2019 and 2020, two had an increase larger than 2 p.p., namely Estonia (+2.3 p.p.) and Lithuania (+2.5 p.p.).

Figure 1: Change in the unemployment rate by age group, 2020 compared with 2019
Source: Eurostat (une_rt_a)


The younger members of the labour force were also severely hit by the financial and economic crisis starting in 2008. The youth unemployment rate followed an upward path after 2008, peaking at 24.4 % in 2013. It then steadily decreased to 15.0 % in 2019, the lowest rate since 2005. After six consecutive years of decrease, it increased again in 2020, to 16.8 %. Considering 2020, the youth unemployment rate was particularly high in Spain (38.3 %), Greece (35.0 %) and Italy (29.4 %). By contrast, the youth unemployment rate was relatively low in the Netherlands (9.1 %), Czechia (8.0 %) and Germany (7.4 %).

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 youth population.

As displayed in Table 1, the EU youth unemployment ratio shows that 6.4 % of all those aged 15-24 were unemployed in 2020, up from 5.9 % in 2019.

Table 1: Youth unemployment rate and ratio, 2018-2020
Source: Eurostat (une_rt_a)

How does educational level affect unemployment ?

The unemployment rate also varies considerably according to the level of educational attainment (see Tool 2, which shows results for people aged 25-74). Generally, the higher the educational attainment level, the lower the unemployment rate; this can be observed in all years since 2005. There were a few exceptions however, for example Denmark, which from 2016 onwards has a higher unemployment rate for tertiary education graduates than for the people with a medium level of education.

Please note that in Tool 2 a high educational attainment level refers to tertiary education (short-cycle tertiary, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral level; ISCED levels 5-8). A medium educational attainment level means to have completed at most an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3-4), while a low educational attainment level refers to having only attained a primary or lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0-2).

At EU level, the unemployment rate of persons having a low level of educational attainment increased from 10.7 % in 2005 to 12.1 % in 2020, while it decreased for those having a high level of educational attainment from 4.9 % to 4.3 %. The gap in the unemployment rate between people with a high and people with a low educational attainment level widened from 5.8 p.p. in 2005 to 12.0 in 2013, and then shrank to 7.8 p.p. in 2020. The narrowing in the recent years was primarily due to the larger drops in the period from 2014 to 2019 and to the smaller increase in 2020 in the unemployment rate of people with a low level of educational attainment than for people with a high level. Indeed, in the EU, focusing on the development between 2019 to 2020, the unemployment rate increased slightly for people with a low level of education, by 0.1 p.p., and more importantly for those with a medium and high level of education, by 0.3 p.p. and 0.4 p.p. respectively (see Figure 2).

Tool 2: Unemployment rate by level of education, 2005-2020
Source: Eurostat



At national level, the unemployment rate for people with a low level of educational attainment increased the most in Latvia (+4.3 p.p.) and Sweden (+4.4 p.p.). The highest increases among people with a medium level were reported by Lithuania (+2.6 p.p.) and Estonia (+2.1 p.p.), while the increase in the unemployment rate of people who attained a high level of education was highest in Estonia (+1.9 p.p.) and Spain (+1.5 p.p.).

Figure 2: Change in the unemployment rate by level of education, 2020 compared with 2019
Source: Eurostat (une_educ_a)

What about long-term unemployment ?

Long-term unemployment is one of the main concerns of policy-makers. Figure 3 shows the breakdown of the unemployed by unemployment duration in 2020. At EU level, one-fifth (20.3 %) of those unemployed have been unemployed for more than 2 years (i.e. classified as very long-term unemployment). However, this average hides large differences between EU Member states. In Greece, around half (47.6 %) of the unemployed persons were looking for a job for more than 2 years, followed by 32.9 % in Italy, 31.6 % in Slovakia and 28.8 % in Bulgaria. Sweden was at the other end of the ranking with 5.1 % of the unemployed in this group, followed by 5.9 % in Denmark, 7.3 % in Finland and 7.5 % in Estonia. Moreover, in these countries, more than 80 % of the unemployed have been unemployed for less than a year.

Figure 3: Unemployment by duration, 2020
(%)
Source: Eurostat (une_ltu_a)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Source: The European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) is the largest European household sample survey providing quarterly and annual results on labour participation of people aged 15 and over as well as on persons outside the labour force. It covers residents in private households. Conscripts in military or community service are not included in the results. The EU-LFS is based on the same target populations and uses the same definitions in all countries, which means that the results are comparable between the countries.

Reference period: Yearly results are obtained as averages of the four quarters in the year.

Coverage: The results from the survey currently cover all European Union Member States, the EFTA Member States of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, as well as the candidate countries Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. For Cyprus, the survey covers only the areas of Cyprus controlled by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

European aggregates: EU refers to the sum of EU-27 Member States. If data are unavailable for a country, the calculation of the corresponding aggregates takes into account the data for the same country for the most recent period available. Such cases are indicated.

Country notes: (1) In Germany, since the first quarter of 2020, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) has been integrated into the newly designed German microcensus as a subsample. Unfortunately, for the LFS, technical issues and the COVID-19 crisis has had a large impact on the data collection processes, resulting in low response rates and a biased sample. Changes in the survey methodology also led to a break in the data series. The published German data are preliminary and may be revised in the future. For more information, see here. (2) Metropolitan France, also known as European France, is the area of the French Republic which is geographically in Europe. It comprises mainland France and Corsica, as well as nearby islands situated in the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel and the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast, overseas France is the collective name for all the French-administered territories outside Europe. Metropolitan and overseas France together form the French Republic, referred to as "France" in the EU-LFS database.

Definitions: The concepts and definitions used in the survey follow the guidelines of the International Labour Organisation.

Different articles on detailed technical and methodological information are available through: EU labour force survey.

Please note that Eurostat provides two sets of indicators linked to the annual unemployment rate, which serve different purposes and which in some cases differ from each other:

1) The LFS main indicators, which contain seasonally adjusted series. They include the labour market headline indicators used e.g. in the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure Scoreboard or the European Statistical Recovery Dashboard and are consequently used for monitoring policy. They have only a few breakdowns and normally refer to the age group 20-64. Please note that for France, two series are published: one including overseas departments starting in 2003, and one for metropolitan France, excluding overseas departments, starting in 1992. The latter is included in the relevant EU and EA aggregates.

2) The detailed results, which contain series that are not seasonally adjusted. They have a large number of breakdowns and can therefore be used for more detailed analysis. For France, only one data series is published. This series contains data for metropolitan France until the fourth quarter of 2013, and from 2014 on, also the French overseas departments.

This article presents annual results for indicators from the "LFS main indicators" set.

Unemployment

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 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.

Context

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.

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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)

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ESMS metadata files and EU-LFS methodology