In 2015, the Nord-Pas de Calais region accounted for 5.0% of the annual French gross domestic product (GDP), making it the fifth most important region in terms of its share of the national figure (Eurostat, 2017). However, the region remains a medium-sized economy at the national scale, as it stands well behind the top-three French regions. In addition, its GDP per capita expressed in PPS was €24,900, which only represented 81.3% of the French national average (€30,600, in 2015) (Eurostat, 2017).
In 2016, the active population of Nord-Pas de Calais was 1,7m persons amounting to 5.8% of the total French active population (15-74-year olds). The unemployment rate was 13.3%, 3.2% above the national average (French rate: 10.1%). Youth unemployment (15-24-year olds) is very high at 30.7% (French rate: 24.7%). Nevertheless, a significant decrease can be noted since 2012, when youth unemployment reached 34.8%, (Eurostat, 2017).
The high youth employment rate is corroborated by the education figure. The percentage of 30-34-year olds who attained tertiary education has decreased by an average 3.3% per year since 2012 and reached 36.2% in 2016, much below the national rate (43.6%) (Eurostat, 2017).
The regional economy was historically dominated by heavy industry, notably coal mines, textiles and metallurgy. However, the closure of the coal mines was part of a more general industrial decline, despite state efforts to boost the industrial sector by supporting the development of the automobile industry for example. In 2014, the main industries present in the region were transportation (railway and automobile industry – accounting for 46% of the employees on the industry sector), metallurgy, agro-food and non-mineral material industry (plastic and rubber) (INSEE, Atlas de l’Industrie – Nord-Pas de Calais, 2014). Nevertheless, employment in the industry sector (not including construction) has decreased on average by 3.9% per year since 2012 (Eurostat, 2017).
Many of the lost jobs have been replaced by service industry-related activities. As a result, regional employment in the service sector in 2016 was almost equal to the national level (77.3% at the regional levels and 76.8% at national level), whilst the industrial employment has moved towards the national average (20.9% vs. 20.4%). The remaining deficit is found in the agricultural sector, where the regional share of employment is only half the national level (1.5% vs. 2.8%) (Eurostat, 2017).