Employment and unemployment

Sharp increase in the employment rate in the second quarter of 2021

Work & training
Sharp increase in the employment rate in the second quarter of 2021

In the second quarter of 2021, 70.5% of people aged 20-64 in Belgium were employed, compared to 69% in the first quarter of 2021. This is what emerged from the new results of Statbel, based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The ILO unemployment rate decreased from 6.7% to 6.2%. Unemployment decreases more sharply among men than among women. For the first time since the beginning of 2017, the unemployment rate of men is below that of women.

Whereas part-time and temporary jobs decreased in 2020, this number is increasing again. There is a stronger increase in the number of part-time jobs (+4.2%) than in the number of full-time jobs (+1.9%). The number of temporary jobs, such as student jobs, is also rising significantly (+12.9%).

There are also positive developments among the temporarily unemployed, both among those who are fully temporarily unemployed and those who are partially temporarily unemployed. The numbers are down, irrespective of the duration (3 months or longer).

43.5% of persons employed sometimes, usually or always worked from home in the second quarter of 2021. This percentage differs little from that of the first quarter of 2021.

When comparing with the results of the second quarter of 2020, the period of the start of the Covid-19 crisis in our country, the strong increase in the employment rate is particularly striking. It has gone from 69.6% in the second quarter of 2020 to 70.5% in the same quarter of 2021. At the same time, over the same one-year period, we also see a strong increase in the unemployment rate. In the second quarter of 2020 - despite the Covid-19 crisis - it was only 4.9% compared to 6.2% in the second quarter of 2021. In the second quarter of 2020, however, we observed a shift from unemployment to inactivity. A part of the unemployed stopped looking for work or was no longer available to start working within two weeks, for example because they had to take care of the children.

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Favourable labour market developments between the first and second quarter of 2021

70.5% of people aged 20-64 are employed

In the second quarter of 2021, 70.5% of people aged 20-64 are employed, which is a sharp increase compared to the first quarter of 2021 when the employment rate amounted to 69% (Chart 1). Men’s employment rate went up from 73.6% in the first quarter of 2021 to 74.5% in the second quarter of 2021. Among women, the percentages are 64.4% and 66.4% respectively.The employment rate evolves positively in the three regions: from 60.4% to 61.6% in Brussels, from 74% to 75% in Flanders and from 62.9% to 65.4% in Wallonia.

The ILO unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 decreases to 6.2%

In the second quarter of 2021, the ILO unemployment rate amounts to 6.2%. That is 0.5 percentage points lower than in the first quarter of 2021 (6.7%) (Chart 2). The decrease is sharper among men (from 6.8% to 6.0%) than among women (from 6.6% to 6.4%). For the first time in four years, the unemployment rate of men is below that of women.
The unemployment rate decreases in all age groups, but the decrease is the sharpest among people over 50. The unemployment rate decreases in the three regions and stands at 11.8% in Brussels, 4.0% in Flanders and 8.5% in Wallonia.

In which jobs does employment increase?

Mainly part-time jobs increase

Although the total employment rate increased by 2.4% between the first and the second quarter of 2021, the employment evolution differs according to the characteristics of the job (Table 1). The number of people employed with a part-time job increased more (+4.2%) than the number of those with a full-time job (+1.9%).

When comparing the professional status, we see that the number of employees increases at approximately the same rate (+2.4%) as the number of self-employed (+2.3%).

Sharp increase in temporary work

The comparison of the type of contract of employees between the first and the second quarter of 2021 shows a striking increase in the number of people employed with temporary contracts. That number grew by 12.9%. It includes a.o. student jobs (with a student employment contract) where we note a 49% increase. But we also see an increase for interim work, occasional work and other contracts of limited duration. The number of employees with a permanent contract increases to a much lesser extent, by 1.3%. In the second quarter of 2021, 10.5% of employees had a temporary job compared to 9.5% in the first quarter of 2021.

Table 1: Evolution of the number of people employed between Q1 2021 and Q2 2021 per job characteristics

Evolution Q1 2021 - Q2 2021 In percent
Total +2.4%
Full-time / part-time
Full-time +1.9%
Part-time +4.2%
Professional status
Employee +2.4%
Non-employees +2.3%
Type of contract (only for employees)
Permanent +1.3%
Temporary +12.9%

Absence and temporary unemployment

The number of people in temporary unemployment decreases

In the second quarter of 2021, 357,000 employed people on average were absent from their job during the whole reference week, i.e. the week for which they were interviewed (Table 2). The main reason for not working the whole week is sickness or accident (153,000 people). 126,000 people were on holidays and 30,000 people on maternity leave, paternity leave or birth leave. It is striking that the number of persons in temporary unemployment due to force majeure (Covid-19) or to economic reasons decreased from 36,000 persons in the first quarter of 2021 to 20,000 persons in the second quarter of 2021. These are persons in temporary unemployment who have been absent from work for less than three months.

Table 2: Working population who did not work during the whole reference week: main reason for not working

  Q1 2021 Q2 2021
Illness or accident 155,027 152,965
Annual holidays or bank holidays 41,320 125,949
Maternity or paternity leave, or birth leave 31,120 29,781
Temporary unemployment due to force majeure (Covid-19) or to economic reasons 35,719 20,160
Other reason 14,580 17,124
Full-time parental leave or time credit with motive ‘looking after own child(ren)’ 6,700 7,280
Flexible schedule or compensation for overtime hours 6,891 2,204
Trainings (directly) related to the job 536 1,150
Your work is seasonal and the reference week is out of season 1,212 544
Total 293,104 357,159

In addition, about 59,000 people on average had not worked for half a day, a day or several days during the reference week due to temporary unemployment (Table 3). Their number falls from 94,000 in the first quarter of 2021 to 59,000 in the second quarter of 2021.
A third group of temporarily unemployed are those who are in (full) temporary unemployment for more than three months. This number also fell sharply between the first and second quarter of 2021, from 80,000 to 55,000 persons. Since 2021, these long-term temporarily unemployed are no longer counted among the employed but among the inactive or ILO unemployed.

Table 3: Evolution of the number of temporarily unemployed according to the duration of temporary unemployment (Q1 2021 - Q2 2021)

  Q1 2021 Q2 2021
Has a job but during the whole reference week in temporary unemployment, duration maximum 3 months (= employed) 35,719 20,160
Has a job but worked less during the reference week due to temporary unemployment (= employed) 93,813 59,062
Has been in full temporary unemployment for more than 3 months (= ILO unemployed or inactive) 80,437 55,142

Working from home

The percentage of homeworkers differs little from that of the first quarter of 2021

Until the end of June, working from home was still mandatory for all people employed whose job allows. 43.5% of persons employed sometimes, usually or always worked from home in the second quarter of 2021. The percentage is slightly lower than in the first quarter of 2021 (44.3%).

Since 2021, the respondents have been asked whether their job or situation allowed them to work more often from home. Among the people employed who did not always work from home, 84.4% answered in the second quarter of 2021 that their job made it impossible to work (more) from home. According to 6.7%, it was however possible to work (more) from home but the employer, customer or client did not allow it. In addition, 8.9% of the respondents said they can work (more) from home, but they would rather not do it or it is difficult because of the home situation.

Evolutions compared to the second quarter of 2020

Previous results compare figures from the second quarter of 2021 with those from the first quarter of 2021. In the following, we compare the employment and unemployment rates of the second quarter of 2021 with those of the second quarter of last year, the period in which the Covid-19 crisis broke out in full in our country.

When comparing figures of 2021 with figures of the period before, certain adjustments to the survey should be taken into account (add link to note with changes in the LFS from 2021). One of the most important changes: from 2021 on, those who have been temporarily unemployed for more than three months are counted among the unemployed or inactive, rather than among the employed, depending on the answers to the questions on job search and availability. In order to illustrate the impact of this changed treatment of the long-term temporarily unemployed, we also calculate, in addition to the official employment rate, an alternative employment rate, whereby the long-term temporarily unemployed are, as before, classified as employed persons.

Chart 3 shows the evolution of the employment rate since the first quarter of 2017 with, for the first and second quarter of 2021, on the one hand the official employment rate according to the new definitions and, on the other hand, the alternative employment rate where the long-term temporarily unemployed are, as before, included in the employed. Note that other changes to the questionnaire may also have had a (limited) impact.

Sharp increase in the employment rate between the second quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021

When comparing the official and alternative employment rates, we see that the official rate is 0.8 percentage points lower than the alternative. While the official employment rate increases from 69.6% to 70.5% between the second quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021, the alternative, more comparable, employment rate increases even more: from 69.6% to 71.3%. This is due, as mentioned, to the still rather substantial number of persons who were in a situation of long-term temporary unemployment in the second quarter of 2021.

Sharp increase in the unemployment rate between the second quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021

Just like for the employment rate, an alternative unemployment rate can be calculated that is more comparable to the past. This alternative unemployment rate amounts to 6.0% and is therefore 0.2 percentage points lower than the official unemployment rate (Chart 4). Nevertheless, the figure is still 1.1 percentage points higher than the unemployment rate in the second quarter of 2020 when - despite the Covid19 crisis - it had fallen even further, because we then observed a shift from unemployment to inactivity. A part of the unemployed stopped looking for work or was no longer available to start working within two weeks, for example because they had to take care of the children. Only in the third quarter of 2020 did the unemployment rate start to rise.

Methodological note

The reported figures are estimations based on a sample survey. They are based on an effective sample of nearly 26,600 persons (respondents) between 15 and 89 years old in the second quarter of 2021. This represents about 13,000 respondents in Flanders, 9,900 in Wallonia and 3,700 in Brussels.

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 evaluating the trends over several quarters, based on the reasoning that certain random sampling fluctuations are less visible in this way.

Overview
Content
Table 1
Content

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 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.

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Methodology