Who really cares about the 26.2 million of EU jobless?

Eurostat graph. Unemployment rates by duration, 2012 (%)

Eurostat graph. Unemployment rates by duration, 2012 (%)

Yesterday, Eurostat, the EU statistical service, published an update of unemployment statistics for the European Union covering the period up to December 2013. In that month 26.200 million men and women in the EU-28, of whom 19.010 million were in the euro area (EA-17), were unemployed. Eurostat estimates that “Compared with November 2013, the number of persons unemployed decreased by 162 000 in the EU-28 and by 129 000 in the euro area. Compared with December 2012, unemployment decreased by 173 000 in the EU-28 and increased by 130 000 in the euro area”.

The same source states that “Among the Member States, the lowest unemployment rates were recorded in Austria (4.9%), Germany (5.1%) and Luxembourg (6.2%), and the highest rates in Greece (27.8% in October 2013) and Spain (25.8%)”. At this point it must be mentioned that in countries with low rates of jobless workers, some forms of hidden underemployment are proportionally more evident than in the crisis hit member states.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this topic. There are three forms of unemployment which are not included in the official definition, as recognised by the United Nations, International Labour Organisation. Those forms are: underemployed part-time workers, jobless persons seeking a job but not immediately available for work and jobless persons available for work but not seeking it.

Differences between north and south

Due to differences in labour market structures between north and south EU countries, those three forms of non-recognised unemployment tend to be much more intense in the former member states. European Sting writer, George Pepper, noted on 21 January that “…countries like Germany with ostensibly very low official unemployment percentages are not spared from real unemployment. In the case of Germany, where the official unemployment is only 5.2%, there is another, almost equally important percentage of unemployed part-timers of 4.1% of the labour force, plus 1.3% of seeking but not available and another 1.3% of people available but not seeking for employment. Add those four percentages and you arrive at 11.9%, which is a quite important part of the labour force”.

           Eurostat table. Unemployment rates, 2001-2012 (%)

Unemployment_rate,_2001-2012_(%)

The same forms of non-recognised unemployment are present also in the south of Eurozone, but their presence is proportionally less intense. If added to the official rates they don’t lead to double percentages as in the case of Germany. However, given that in countries like Spain and Greece, the official rates are hideously high, the addition of the three unofficial forms leads to percentages, which surpass the one third of the labour force.

Coming back to the official rates Eurostat observes that in December 2013, “Compared with a year ago, the unemployment rate increased in fourteen Member States fell in thirteen and remained stable in Sweden. The highest increases were registered in Cyprus (13.9 % to 17.5 %), Greece (26.1 % to 27.8 % between October 2012 and October 2013), the Netherlands (5.8 % to 7.0 %) and Italy (11.5 % to 12.7 %)”.

Long term trends

What about the long term trends? For various reasons developments in the labour market may linger and not necessarily follow right on the footprints of the general economic trends. Sometimes the labour market follows the general trends after a long time gap. Such a period was the twelve month interval between mid-2010 and mid-2011. During that time, the labour market was emitting false signals that the economic crisis had ended. The Eurostat writers note that “The unemployment rate in the euro area (EA-17) followed roughly the same trend as in the EU-27… Like in the EU-27, during the economic crisis, unemployment increased at a considerable pace, with the exception of the period between mid-2010 and mid-2011, where it temporarily declined. At the end of 2012 the unemployment rate for the EA-17 hit 11.8 %, the highest rate since 1995”.

Unfortunately, unemployment in Eurozone increased further and reached 12% in October last year. The problem is though, as all analysts agree, that the currently weak and fragmented recovery of Eurozone will have no positive effects on the labour market during the foreseeable future. It takes more than words to fight this devastating phenomenon, which ravages half the Eurozone and has already damaged, probably irreparably, the socio-political environment in countries like Greece and Italy.

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