Employment and Social Developments in Europe review shows diverse impact of COVID-19 crisis

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.

Today, the Commission’s services have published the 2021 edition of the Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE) review. The ESDE review shows that the social impact of the COVID-19 crisis has been diverse.

The main findings of the ESDE review are:

  • Employment grew in jobs that are critical, can be carried out from home and require low social interaction. This was the case for instance in insurance, computer programming and telecommunications sectors. Jobs that could not be carried out from home saw a drop in employment. This was the highest in the sectors most severely affected by the lockdown measures, such as accommodation, food and travel. The decline was less pronounced in critical frontline jobs with high social interaction, such as doctors, nurses, personal care and childcare workers.
  • The geographical impact of the COVID-19 crisis has been uneven and may widen regional inequalities that already existed before the pandemic. Job losses were five times greater in rural areas than in cities. Across EU Member States, the Mediterranean regions were the most affected by job losses, also linked to a greater share of people working in tourism.
  • The regions that proved to be more resilient to the shock of COVID-19 tend to share characteristics such as high regional productivity, high level of skilled population levels, big investment in research and development, quality local public institutions and solid digital infrastructure. Overall, well-performing labour markets proved to be better protected against the economic downturn.
  • The impact of the crisis on national social dialogue and collective bargaining varied across EU countries. Countries with strong social dialogue institutions favoured the early involvement of social partners in designing and deploying response measures such as short-time work schemes. In some EU countries, health concerns limited traditional collective bargaining procedures, while in others the involvement of social partners increased in the light of urgent public interventions.
  • The decline in the EU employment rate was slightly higher for men than for women. However, the effect of the crisis on gender inequalities depends on various dimensions, and the pandemic highlighted long-standing gender inequalities. Women experienced a steeper fall in working hours than men in the second quarter of 2020 since some sectors characterised by high female employment (e.g. accommodation and food service activities) were strongly impacted by lockdowns. Also, women continued to take on the largest share of caring responsibilities, and faced challenges in balancing work and private life.
  • Teleworkers are satisfied with working from home when they receive the IT and other equipment they need to do their work, when they do not have to work considerably longer hours and when work does not interfere with family time.

Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said: “The 2021 Employment and Social Developments review provides evidence that the pandemic has affected people and regions in different ways. We must keep this in mind as we shape a recovery that is inclusive and sustainable. With major transitions still ahead, we need a labour market policy that favours mobility, gives all workers the best possible opportunity, creates quality jobs and helps companies to find the best skilled people.”


The annual Employment and Social Developments in Europe review prepared by the Directorate-General of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion provides up-to-date economic analysis of employment and social trends in Europe and discusses related policy options. It is the European Commission’s analytical flagship report in the area of employment and social affairs, mandated by Articles 151, 159 and 161 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

This year’s edition is titled ‘Towards a Strong Social Europe in the Aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis: Reducing Disparities and Addressing Distributional Impacts’. It shows the benefits of the response measures that the EU has put in place. This includes SURE, a €100 billion instrument to protect jobs and incomes during the COVID-19 crisis. In 2020, support from SURE reached between 25 and 30 million people. The findings also support the Commission’s emphasis on youth employment and skills through the Youth Employment Support package and the European Skills Agenda.

While the coordinated response at EU and national level has managed to cushion the socio-economic blow of the COVID-19 pandemic, some groups of the population, occupations and regions face particular challenges. In order not to jeopardise the success of the EU’s response to the pandemic crisis, a strong social dimension needs to accompany the investments and reforms that are needed for a long-lasting economic recovery.

The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, presented in March 2021, defines ambitious EU-level employment, skills and poverty reduction targets for 2030 and sets out a comprehensive policy agenda to achieve them. The commitment to a strong social Europe was renewed at the highest political level, engaging social partners and civil society at the Porto Social Summit 7-8 May 2021 and by the June European Council.

The new impetus on social rights will use and reinforce the momentum created by the ambitious €1.8 trillion EU long-term budget and NextGenerationEU recovery instrument. They will provide funding opportunities to EU countries to support a strong social Europe.

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