A recent report of Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, shows that the unemployment rate remained relatively stable between September and December 2020, but rose from 6.5% to 7.5% over the course of the year. Overall, Eurostat estimates that 16 million men and women were unemployed in December 2020 – up by 2 million compared to the previous year. More than 3 million are under 25 years old, of whom 2.6 million are in the euro area.

These figures are based on the definition of unemployment issued by the International Labour Organization, which counts as unemployed those without a job who have been actively seeking work in the last four weeks and are available to start work within the next two weeks. However, the governmental measures adopted to limit the spread of Covid-19 affected the number of individuals falling within the definition of unemployed according to the ILO definition. A significant part of those who had registered in unemployment agencies were no longer actively looking for a job or no longer available for work, for instance, if they had to take care of their children. It is therefore likely that this report only reflects the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

To fully capture the unprecedented labour market situation triggered by the outbreak, the European Union Labour Force Survey (LFS) offers additional indicators, namely the share of underemployed part-time workers, persons seeking work but not immediately available, and persons available to work but not seeking. Altogether, these indicators show that the unmet demand for paid labour represented 14.6% of the extended EU27 labour force during the second quarter of 2020, up by 1.2% compared to the first quarter of 2020. This has been the highest quarter-on-quarter increase since the beginning of the time series in early 2008. In line with Eurostat findings, latest available LFS figures points towards a settling of the trend rather than a recovery, with a slight decline of 0.1% for the third quarter 2020.

Responding to the latest figures, ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini said that ‘EU can vaccinate against rising unemployment, by prolonging job and wage protection schemes through 2021 and extending them to all workers including the self-employment’, stressing that the EU ‘cannot allow jobs to be lost for good in the coming months’.