Slight decrease in both employment and unemployment in the second quarter 2023
In the second quarter of 2023, 71.4% of people aged 20-64 in Belgium are employed, which is a slight decrease compared to the first quarter of 2023 (72.1%), but a stabilisation compared to the second quarter of 2022. The ILO unemployment rate amounts to 5.5% in the second quarter of 2023, and is slightly down after remaining stable at 5.7% in the last 4 quarters. The decrease in both key indicators goes hand in hand with a rather large increase in the number of inactive people, which in turn results in a falling activity rate. This is what emerged from the new results of Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS).
The employment rate decreases in just about every subgroup: among men and women, among older people (55+) and among the population aged 20-54, in each of the three regions and among low-skilled people. Only highly-skilled people show a slight increase in the employment rate.
The unemployment rate also slightly decreases in most subgroups, except among low-skilled people, where we register a clear increase for the second quarter in a row. In Flanders, we also see a slight increase from 3.1% to 3.3%, although the unemployment rate remains at a low level. In the Walloon Region however, we see the sharpest decrease in the unemployment rate: the figure, 7.9%, is for the first time since about three years again below the 8%.
The share of the economically active population aged 15-64 on the labour market, also called the activity rate, has decreased fairly sharply in the second quarter, especially among men, the oldest age group and in Wallonia.
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71.4% of people aged 20-64 are employed
The employment rate slightly decreases compared to the previous quarter, but remains stable compared to the previous year
After the employment rate exceeded 72% in each of the past three quarters, the figure in the second quarter of 2023 drops back to the level of one year ago at 71.4%. In absolute terms, this means that in the second quarter of 2023, about 4,830,000 people aged 20 to 64 are in work in Belgium. If we look at the population of aged 15 and over, this is 4,971,000 people.
We see a decrease among both men and women. Among women, the employment rate has decreased between the first and second quarters of 2023, from 68.1% to 67.7%, while the employment rate of men went from 76.1% to 75.2% (Chart 1). Compared to the same quarter last year, the employment rate remains stable, among both men and women.
Similar evolutions per age group
Per age, we see similar trends among the population group of 20-54-year-olds and that of 55-64-year-olds (Chart 2). The employment rate decreases by about 1% in both groups when we compare with the previous quarter. Compared to a year earlier, though, there is a clear difference in evolution. While the employment rate among people aged 20-54 slightly decreases from 76.1% to 75.7%, we see that it increases from 55.9% to 57.2% (+2.3%). among the 55-64-year-olds. The difference between the employment rate of both age groups remains large: in the second quarter of 2023, 75.7% of people aged 20-54 were employed compared to 57.2% of people aged 55-64.
The employment rate decreases in the three regions
Compared to the previous quarter, we also see very similar trends in the different regions. In each of the three regions, we see a decrease ranging between -0.9% and -1.1%. The employment rate in Wallonia (64.3%) and Brussels (65.3%) remains well below the figure in Flanders (76.6%) (Chart 3).
Compared to a year earlier, though, there is a difference in evolution. In both Brussels and Flanders, we see an increase in the employment rate of 0.7% and 0.4% respectively, but in Wallonia, this figure has decreased by 1.1% between the second quarter 2022 and the second quarter 2023.
The gap between low-skilled and highly-skilled people is widening.
Just like last quarter, we see opposite trends by level of education between the first quarter and the second quarter of 2023. After the employment rate of the low-skilled peaked in the fourth quarter of 2022, we have now seen a fairly sharp decline for two quarters in a row. Between the fourth quarter 2022 and the first quarter 2023, the employment rate of the low-skilled decreases by 2.6% and by another 4.8% in the second quarter of 2023, to reach 45% (Chart 4). This widens the gap with the highly-skilled group, where the employment rate still rises slightly to 86.2% in the second quarter of 2023. Among medium-skilled people, the employment rate remains virtually stable at 67.6% (compared to 67.7% last quarter).
The unemployment rate decreases slightly to 5.5%
Decrease in the unemployment rate among both men and women
After the ILO unemployment rate remained stuck at 5.7% for four quarters, we see another slight decline to 5.5% in the second quarter of 2023. This brings the number of unemployed in the second quarter of 2023 to about 284,000.
The decrease is sharper among men than among women. After a continuous rise in the unemployment rate among men from 5.6% in the first quarter 2022 to 6.4% in the previous quarter, it falls to 6.0% in the second quarter of 2023 (Chart 5). Among women, on the other hand, we see a continuation of the downward trend since the second quarter 2022 and, at 4.9% in the second quarter of 2023, the unemployment rate is 1.1 percentage points below that of men.
The unemployment rate of young people decreases further
The unemployment rate of young people (15-24), which tends to be a lot more volatile, also continues to fall further in the second quarter to 13.9%, which is almost 3 percentage points lower than in the same quarter one year ago, when the unemployment rate among 15-24-year-olds was 16.8% (Chart 6).
In the other two age groups, we see a slight decrease in the unemployment rate when compared to the previous quarter, but a stabilisation compared to a year earlier; the unemployment rate of 25-49-year-olds stands at 5.3% and that of people over 50 at 3.5%.
The unemployment rate decreases in Wallonia
Per region, the decrease in the unemployment rate in Wallonia stands out the most. There, the unemployment rate evolves from 8.8% to 7.9% between the first and second quarters of 2023. Compared to a year earlier, when the rate was 8.6%, this is also a decline (Chart 7). Looking at a longer period, the last time the figure was below the 8% was in the third quarter of 2020.
In the other two regions, the shifts are not so significant. In Flanders, we see a slight increase in the unemployment rate to 3.3%, both compared to the previous quarter and the previous year. In Brussels, we see a slight decrease from 11.4% to 11.3% between the first and second quarter 2023. Compared to a year earlier, this is a larger decrease, namely from 12.0% to 11.3%.
The unemployment rate of low-skilled people increases
While the unemployment rate of medium-skilled and highly-skilled people decreased, that of low-skilled people shows an upward trend, just like in the previous quarter: the figure in the second quarter 2023 stands at 14.6%, compared to 13.3% a quarter earlier. Among medium-skilled people, the unemployment rate decreased from 6.8% to 6.0% and among highly-skilled people from 2.9% to 2.6% (Chart 8).
Sharp increase in the number of inactive people in the second quarter of 2023
The activity rate decreases more among men than women
When both the number of employed and unemployed people decreases, this implies - at least with a population remaining stable - that the number of economically inactive people rises. This is therefore what we observe in the second quarter of 2023. Compared to the previous quarter, the number of inactive people aged 15 and over has increased by 96,000, an increase that is clearly more significant than the population increase of about 26,000. The population of inactive people in the second quarter 2023 is estimated at 4,408,000. Almost half of them are 65 or older. If we only look at the population aged 15-64, the number is 2,249,000 people.
Also in relative terms, looking at the percentage of economically active people in the 15-64 age group (= activity rate), we see a clear decrease, especially among men. There, the activity rate drops from 74.8% in the first quarter of 2023 to 73.6% in the second quarter of 2023. The decrease is slightly smaller among women, and the activity rate goes from 66.4% to 65.9% (Chart 9).
Compared to a year earlier, we also see a decrease in the general level of activity rate, but there it is mainly due to an evolution among women. Among men, it is rather a slight increase or stabilisation.
Large differences in the activity rate per age group
By age, we see a decreasing activity rate between the first and second quarters of 2023 in both the 25-49 age group and the 50-64 age group, where the decline is the sharpest (Chart 10). The activity rate of young people remains virtually stable. It is the highest among 25-49-year-olds (85.6%) compared to 67% among the 50-64-year-olds and 30.2% among young people (15-24).
However, compared to a year earlier, the activity rate of the oldest age group is slightly higher at 67% compared to 66.3% in the second quarter 2022. Among the 25-49 age group, we do note a decline when comparing with a year earlier.
The activity rate decreases in the three regions, with the sharpest decrease in Wallonia
With 73.5%, Flanders registers the highest activity rate of the three regions, a figure that is almost 10 percentage points higher than that in Wallonia. The figure of the Brussels Capital Region lies in between, with an activity rate of 67.5% (Chart 11). Interestingly, the figures for Brussels and Wallonia were still at roughly the same level in 2021, but while the Brussels activity rate increased slightly over the past two years, Wallonia registered a decline. However, in the second quarter 2023, we see in the three regions a decrease in the activity rate, the sharpest being in Wallonia.
Large differences in the activity rate per level of education
Given the already mentioned large differences in both employment and unemployment rates according to the education level, this is logically also the case for the activity rate. The differences are even more pronounced. While the activity rate among the highly-skilled approaches 90%, the percentage of economically active people among the low-skilled hardly exceeds 40%. Medium-skilled people are in between with an activity rate of just under 70% (Chart 12).
In terms of evolution, the past quarter saw a decline among the low and medium-skilled, but rather a stabilisation among highly-skilled people.
Transitions on the labour market
Based on the panel data available to the Labour Force Survey, we can also observe shifts or transitions in the labour market status of individuals. More information is available here. The analysis of these shifts between the second quarter of 2022 and 2023 shows that the share of people leaving unemployment to become employed has risen slightly again, after last quarter's decline. At the same time, inactive people appear less likely to find their way to work.
The reported figures are estimations based on a sample survey. They are based on an effective sample of more than 26,700 persons (respondents) between 15 and 89 years old in the second quarter of 2023. This represents about 13,400 respondents in Flanders, 9,900 in Wallonia and 3,400 in Brussels.
The Labour Force Survey is a continuous survey, which means that the sample is evenly spread over the 52 (reference) weeks of the year. The selected respondents answer a questionnaire mainly related to their activity in the course of a given reference week. The data presented here reflect the averages for the quarter.
As the LFS questionnaire has changed since the first quarter of 2021, as have the ILO definitions on employment and unemployment, the charts presented here start from the first quarter of 2021 (and not earlier because there is a break between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021).
In spite of the large sample on which the figures are based, one has to take into account (as with all results based on a sample) a certain degree of uncertainty regarding the estimated figures. In order to increase readability, reference is not always made to whether or not certain evolutions are significant. However, it should be borne in mind that small evolutions from one quarter to another are usually not significant. Therefore, we recommend to assess the trends over several quarters, based on the reasoning that certain random sampling fluctuations are less visible in this way.
The confidence intervals for the employment, unemployment and activity rates are available in annexes 1,2 and 3.
The survey is harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are mentioned (see tab ‘documents’) are those of the International Labour Office (ILO) to allow international comparison.
The employment rate of people aged 20-64 is the share of persons employed in the total population aged 20 to 64.
The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 is the share of unemployed people in the labour force (employed + unemployed) aged 15 to 64.
The activity rate of people aged 15-64 is the share of active population (employed + unemployed) in the total population aged 15 to 64.
Low-skilled people are people who have at most a lower secondary education diploma. Medium-skilled people are people who obtained a diploma of upper secondary education but not of higher education. Highly-skilled people obtained a diploma of higher education.
Annex 1: Confidence intervals for the employment rate of people aged 20-64 year-olds (Q2 2023)
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Annex 2: Confidence intervals for the unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 year-olds (Q2 2023)
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Annex 3: Confidence intervals for the activity rate of people aged 15-64 year-olds (Q2 2023)
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Definitions regarding employment and unemployment
The survey is harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are mentioned are those of the International Labour Office (ILO) to allow international comparison.
- People with a job (employed people) comprise all people who during the reference week performed some work ‘for wage or salary’ or ‘for profit’ regardless of the duration (even if this was only one hour), or who had a job but were temporarily absent. For example, one can be temporarily absent for holidays, illness, technical or economic reasons (temporary unemployment),....
Family workers are also included in the category ‘employed’.
Since 2021, people who have been temporarily unemployed for an uninterrupted period of more than three months are counted as unemployed or inactive, and no longer as employed.
- The unemployed comprise all people who:
(a) during the reference week were without work, i.e. were not in paid employment or self-employment;
(b) were available for work, i.e. were available for paid employment or self-employment within two weeks after the reference week;
(c) were actively seeking work, i.e. had taken specific steps during the last four weeks including the reference week to seek paid employment or self-employment, or who had found a job to start within a maximum period of three months.
Please note: The ILO unemployment figures are unrelated to any possible registration with the VDAB, Actiris, FOREM or the ADG, or to the receipt of unemployment benefits from ONEM (National Employment Office). As a result, they cannot be compared with administrative unemployment figures.
- The labour force is made up of the employed and the unemployed.
- The economically inactive population comprises all people who were not considered as employed or unemployed.
- The employment rate represents employed persons as a percentage of the same age population.
- The employment rate as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy represents the share of persons employed in the population aged 20 to 64.
- The unemployment rate represents the share of unemployed people in the labour force (employed + unemployed) within a given age group.
- The economic activity rate represents the share of the labour force (employed + unemployed) in the total population within a given age group.
The above indicators (employment rate, unemployment rate and economic activity rate) are the most important indicators for international comparisons of the labour market evolution.
Low-skilled people are people who have at best a lower secondary education diploma. Medium-skilled people have obtained an upper secondary education diploma, but no higher education diploma. High-skilled people have a higher education diploma.
Labour force Survey (PDF, 583 Kb)
- Changes to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) in 2021
- LFS : Methodological improvements of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2017 (PDF, 97 Kb)