Employment and unemployment

Employment and unemployment remained stable in the first quarter 2020 

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Employment and unemployment remained stable in the first quarter 2020

Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, publishes today the results of the Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2020, i.e. until 31 March 2020 included. At the end of this quarter, the Covid-19 pandemic caused major changes in the labour situation of a large part of the population. The first signs are still very limited in the quarterly figures, which show an average for the whole quarter. In order to better follow recent events, Statbel has recently also published provisional figures on a monthly basis (https://statbel.fgov.be/en/themes/datalab/monthly-figures-labour-market). These show that the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis will only be fully visible next quarter. The figures for May 2020 will be published on Thursday 9 July 2020. The final figures for the second quarter will follow at the end of September. 

2019 was a good year for the labour market. No major shifts can be observed in the first quarter of 2020. The employment rate amounts to 70.4 % at national level. We note a slight increase in Brussels (62.6 %) and Wallonia (64.2 %), while there is a slight decrease in Flanders (75.4 %). The disparities among the regions remain fairly large.

As for the unemployment rate, the downward trend of the last few years continues, especially in Brussels and in Wallonia. In the first quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 stood at 11.2 % in Brussels and at 7.1 % in Wallonia. In Flanders, we observe a slight increase after the significant decrease in the previous quarter. However, the unemployment rate there remains very low: 3.1 %.

You will find more details here below

Employment rate of people aged 20-64:

70.4 % of people aged 20-64 are employed

We see very little evolution in the employment rate in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the figures of the previous quarter. In the 20-64 age group, which is the target group of the EU2020 indicator, the figure is 70.4 % in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 70.5 % in the fourth quarter of 2019. Compared to the figures of the same quarter last year, however, we still see a clear increase from 69.8 % to 70.4 %.

The gap between the employment rate of men and women is again slightly wider

While we have seen the gap between the employment rates of men and women gradually narrow in recent years, in the first quarter of 2020, both figures diverge somewhat. The employment rate of women aged 20-64 slightly decreases from 66.7 % in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 66.0 % in the first quarter of 2020, while that of men went from 74.3 % to 74.7 % in the same period. 

Increase in the employment rate of people aged 55 and over

If we take a look at the breakdown per age group, we can see between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 an increase in the employment rate of 0.4 percentage point for the 55-64 age group and a slight decrease of 0.2 percentage point for the 20-54 age group. The figure for the 55-64 age group stands at 52.8 %, but still remains well below the level of the 20-54 age group. In this group, the employment rate amounts to 75.6 %.

Minimal shifts within the regions

Only minimal shifts can be observed at regional level compared to the previous quarter. In Brussels and Wallonia, we note a slight increase in the employment rate, from 62.3 % to 62.6 % in Brussels and from 64.0 % to 64.2 % in Wallonia, while there is a slight decrease from 75.7 % to 75.4 % in Flanders. The disparities among the regions remain fairly large.

Unemployment rate of people aged 15-64:

The ILO unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 amounts to 5.1 %

The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 according to the definitions of the International Labour Office (see tab ‘Documents’) amounts to 5.1 % in the first quarter of 2020, continuing the downward trend of recent years. While the figure is still clearly different from the unemployment rate in the same quarter last year (5.7 % in the first quarter of 2019), we see hardly any difference with the figure of the previous quarter (5.2 % in the fourth quarter of 2019). So the trend seems to be stabilising.

It remains to be seen what will be the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, which will fully manifest itself in the next quarter's figures. As already mentioned following the publication of the provisional figures for April 2020, this official ILO unemployment rate will not necessarily increase in the short term. On the one hand, persons in temporary unemployment are still considered to be employed because they keep their job and are only temporarily absent from it. On the other hand, we also expect shifts from unemployment to inactivity in the short term. After all, the specific ILO definition of unemployment not only requires that one does not have a job, but one must also be available for the labour market and actively look for a job. Our provisional monthly figures indicate that especially that specific group of inactive people who are available, but not actively looking for a job, is rising sharply. (https://statbel.fgov.be/en/themes/datalab/monthly-figures-labour-market).

The unemployment rate of women is slightly lower than that of men

The unemployment rate for men and women differs only slightly, reaching 5.3 % for men and 4.9 % for women in the first quarter of 2020. The female unemployment rate has slightly increased compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 (from 4.6 % to 4.9 %), while that of men decreased from 5.7 % to 5.3 %. However, the level of female unemployment has remained below that of men for a number of years now.

Further decrease in the youth unemployment rate

Just like the general unemployment rate, the youth unemployment rate has been falling for some time. Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 we see a fairly large drop of 2.2 percentage points. This brings the figure to 12.4 %. On the other hand, the unemployment rate in the other two age groups is rising very slightly.  

Further decrease in unemployment in Wallonia and Brussels

At regional level, we see a clear decrease in Wallonia and in Brussels. In Brussels, this figure went from 11.8 % in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 11.2 % in the first quarter of 2020. In Wallonia, we observe a decrease from 7.6 % to 7.1 %. Flanders was at a very low level of 2.9 % in the previous quarter and still remains at a low level of unemployment despite the slight rise in the unemployment rate to 3.1 % in the first quarter of 2020. For each of the three regions we see a clear downward trend when we compare to the same quarter one year ago.

Monitoring the Covid-19 crisis

In order to monitor the consequences of the Covid crisis, Statbel publishes an additional set of indicators (see .xlsx file) that will be updated every quarter:

Even though the impact of the crisis is not yet visible in the ILO indicators, we already see a limited impact on working hours. While persons employed worked on average 33 hours per week in the first quarter of 2019 in their main job, this figure has dropped to 31.2 hours per week on average in the first quarter of 2020.

Methodological note

The reported figures are estimations based on a sample survey. It is based on an effective sample of more than 31,500 persons (respondents) of working age (15 and older) in the first quarter of 2020. This represents about 15,500 respondents in Flanders, 12,000 in Wallonia and 4,000 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.

Key indicators of the labour market Q1 2020

Belgium Percentage first quarter 2020 Evolution compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 in percentage point Evolution compared to the first quarter of 2019 in percentage point
Employment rate of people aged 20-64 Total 70.4% -0.1 +0.6
Men 74.7% +0.4 +1.0
Women 66.0% -0.7 +0.2
Employment rate of people aged 55-64 Total 52.8% +0.4 +2.0
Men 58.7% +0.8 +3.2
Women 47.0% 0.0 +0.8
Unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 Total 5.1% -0.1 -0.5
Men 5.3% -0.4 -1.0
Women 4.9% +0.3 -0.1
Unemployment rate of people aged 15-24 Total 12.4% -2.2 -3.3
Men 11.9% -4.4 -6.8
Women 12.9% +0.2 +0.8
Brussels-Capital Region Percentage first quarter 2020 Evolution compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 in percentage point Evolution compared to the first quarter of 2019 in percentage point
Employment rate of people aged 20-64 Brussels-Capital Region Total 62.6% +0.3 +1.8
Men 68.7% +0.6 +1.1
Women 56.6% 0.0 +2.4
Unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 Brussels-Capital Region Total 11.2% -0.6 -2.5
Men 10.5% -0.5 -3.3
Women 12.1% -0.7 -1.5
Flemish Region Percentage first quarter 2020 Evolution compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 in percentage point Evolution compared to the first quarter of 2019 in percentage point
Employment rate of people aged 20-64 Flemish Region Total 75.4% -0.3 +1.2
Men 79.5% +0.1 +1.6
Women 71.2% -0.7 +0.8
Unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 Flemish Region Total 3.1% +0.2 -0.3
Men 3.0% -0.3 -0.7
Women 3.2% +0.8 +0.1
Walloon Region Percentage first quarter 2020 Evolution compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 in percentage point Evolution compared to the first quarter of 2019 in percentage point
Employment rate of people aged 20-64 Walloon Region Total 64.2% +0.1 -1.0
Men 68.2% +1.1 -0.3
Women 60.2% -0.8 -1.7
Unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 Walloon Region Total 7.1% -0.5 -0.3
Men 8.2% -0.7 -0.6
Women 5.9% -0.3 +0.1
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 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.

Forms

Methodology

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