Employment and unemployment

Labour market more dynamic due to coronavirus crisis

Work & training
Labour market more dynamic due to coronavirus crisis

Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, publishes for the first time labour market transitions based on the Labour Force Survey. The longitudinal nature of the survey makes it possible to measure the dynamics on the labour market. The data answer questions such as: is someone who is employed at a given time still employed a quarter or a year later, or did he/she become unemployed or inactive?

The labour market was particularly affected by the coronavirus crisis between the first and second quarters of 2020. Between the second and the third quarters of 2020, transitions seem to be back in line with the previous transitions.

The main findings are:

  • Compared to the previous quarter, the majority of the employed are still at work (95.7 %). However, compared to the previous year, we observe that slightly fewer people remain employed on the labour market
  • Compared to previous quarters, there are more unemployed people who remain unemployed, also among highly-skilled people. While many unemployed became inactive last quarter, they are now looking for work again.
  • Many inactive people remain inactive: compared to the previous quarter, 89.5 % of people aged 15-74 are still inactive. Compared to the previous year, this is still 87.9 %.

Methodological information

The figures presented here are part of an analysis to be published which focuses on the methodology of labour market transitions.

They are the results of the Labour Force Survey (LFS), a survey 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. We distinguish three ILO statuses on the labour market: employed, unemployed and inactive. The definitions applied are available here:


Please note that temporarily unemployed persons are temporarily absent from work and are counted as employed.

The Labour Force Survey is a continuous survey, which means that the sample is spread evenly over the 52 weeks of the year. The selected respondents answer a questionnaire mainly related to their activity in the course of a given reference week. The respondents participate four times: they participate for 2 consecutive quarters, then don’t for 2 quarters, and then participate again for 2 quarters. This way, we can observe what the labour market status of a given respondent is in a given quarter, and a quarter and/or a year later: e.g. is someone who is unemployed still unemployed in the next quarter and/or year?

So, if one speaks of a particular status in a particular quarter, it is by definition the status in the reference week. If one indicates to work in the reference week of quarter Q and in the reference week of quarter Q+1, they are counted twice as employed. There are, of course, a number of cases that were unemployed in the meantime, for example, but this is beyond the scope of our data.

The quarterly transitions are the sums of weighted observations of respondents who participated in the successive quarters (e.g. 2019Q4-2020Q1, 2020Q1-2020Q2).

The quarter specific annual transitions are the sums of weighted observations of respondents participating in the same quarter of two consecutive years (e.g. 2019Q1-2020Q1).

The annual transitions are the means of four quarter specific annual transitions for two successive years (e.g. 2019-2020).

Respondents who did not participate in one of two waves (= interviews) cannot be taken into account in this analysis. Respondents in the longitudinal sample are in both quarters at least 15 years old and at most 74 years old.

The longitudinal sample is calibrated to the estimated distributions of ILO labour market status per age, gender, region, level of education and nationality in the start and end quarters.

The published figures are based on the Labour Force Survey. They are no exact figures but approximations based on the extrapolation of a random sample from the Belgian population. This must be taken into account when interpreting the results. When the unweighted number of persons is lower than 30, data should be interpreted with caution.

More info on the Labour Force Survey is available at:


Table 1

Employment rate, unemployment rate and activity rate by gender for Belgium and the regions, last 4 quarters

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Table 2

Definitions regarding employment and unemployment

The Labour Force Survey is a sample survey among private households, held throughout the year. It is based on the replies of almost 123,000 persons (respondents) of working age (15 and older).

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.

  • The employed comprise all persons who during the reference period performed some work for wage or salary, in cash or in kind, or who were temporarily not at work during the reference period and had a formal attachment to their job. 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’.
  • The unemployed comprise all persons who:

(a) during the reference period 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 period;

(c) were 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 later, i.e. within a period of at most three months from the end of the reference week.

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 persons who were not considered 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.



LFS : Methodological improvements of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2017 (PDF, 97 Kb)