Transitions on the labour market

9 inactive persons out of 10 remained inactive on the labour market

Work & training
9 inactive persons out of 10 remained inactive on the labour market

Labour market transitions between the first quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024.

Statbel publishes today the transitions on the labour market between the first quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024. This shows that 9 out of 10 inactive persons remained inactive on the labour market between the first quarter of 2023 and that of 2024. Most of them were either retired or student, and so were not immediately available on the labour market. Furthermore, we see that 27.4% of unemployed people a year ago made the transition to work, and 42.4% remained unemployed. 30.2% of the unemployed became inactive on the labour market. This figure is slightly higher than in the previous quarters. These results also show that people still stay in employment easily: 94.5% of people who were employed last year are still working.

Inactive people on the labour market

The vast majority of inactive people are still inactive one year later. Of the 3.36 million people who were inactive in the first quarter of 2023, 92.0% or 3.09 million are still inactive one year later, a figure slightly higher than in the previous quarter (90.5%). 5.5% or 190,000 persons have started to work and a small percentage of 2.5% or 80,000 people have made the transition to unemployment. Note that we always use the ILO definition of unemployment. This means that these people are now seeking work and are also available for a job, whereas this was not the case a year earlier.

In this press release, we take a closer look at the group that remains inactive between the first quarter of 2023 and that of 2024, or a total of 3.09 million Belgians aged 15-74. Here, we look at how these people perceive themselves: as retired, student, incapacitated or something else?

With 42.8%, the retired are the largest group of people remaining inactive on the labour market. 82.8% of them are 65 or older. Students are the second largest group, i.e. 28.3% or 87,000 young people. 95.4% of them are under 25.

The third largest group is the group with 430,000 people incapacitated for work because of long-standing health problems, which accounts for 14.0% of the people remaining inactive. In this group, one in four is between 45 and 54 years old, and almost half is older than 55. So this means that one in four persons incapacitated is younger than 45 but cannot work because of long-standing health problems. In addition, another 10.5% of people remaining inactive identify themselves as housewives or househusbands. 89.5% of them are women.

Finally, another 2.5% see themselves as unemployed, but are not actively seeking work or are not available to start a job within two weeks. 2% do not identify as any of the above categories, and are under “other”.

We also see some significant regional differences. The population is younger in the Brussels-Capital Region, and we clearly see a smaller share of retired people and a larger share of students in this region. We also see proportionally more people incapacitated for work and unemployed.  In the Flemish Region, we see a higher share of older self-perceived unemployed people and a smaller share of students and people incapacitated for work. However, it should be noted that there are more employed students in Flanders: one Flemish student out of six is working (and so not included in the category of inactive people), while this share is clearly smaller in the other regions. The Walloon Region is between the Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region for all categories.

Unemployed

In the previous quarters, it was noticeable that unemployed people seemed to find it more difficult to make the transition to work. This is confirmed in the first quarter of 2024. 27.4% of the unemployed in the first quarter of 2023 have a job a year later. In absolute numbers, this means that of the 300,000 unemployed people in the first quarter of 2023, 130,000 are still unemployed one year later, 80,000 are working and 90,000 have become inactive (30.2%); this means that they are no longer seeking work and/or are not available within two weeks.

We see large regional differences here: of the Flemish unemployed in the first quarter of 2023, 32.1% are still unemployed one year later. Figures are higher in the Brussels-Capital Region and in the Walloon Region: the percentage of people remaining unemployed over a 1-year period stands at 56.1% in the Brussels-Capital Region and at 43.2% in the Walloon Region.

Employed

A very high percentage of people who were employed a year ago are still working today. 94.5% of people who were employed in the first quarter of 2023 are still employed in the first quarter of 2024. In addition, 1.8% of employed people have become unemployed a year later and 3.7% have become inactive. These figures remained fairly stable compared to the previous quarter.

Background information

To assess the situation of the labour market, it is not only important to know how many people are unemployed, inactive and employed, but also how many people change their status within a given period of time. How many of the unemployed in this quarter were already looking for work a year earlier? How many of them made the transition to work? What percentage of employed people were also working a year earlier? Questions that can be answered with the Labour Force Survey, as this is a survey in which respondents are interviewed several times.

In this press release, we discuss the evolution of the labour market status of people who were employed, unemployed and inactive a year ago (first quarter of 2023) and compare it with their status in the current quarter (first quarter of 2024). We focus here on the population aged 15 to 74. We also publish the comparison between the status in the previous quarter (last quarter of 2023) and the status in the current quarter (first quarter of 2024). These figures are not discussed in this text, but can be found under Figures on the website.

Methodological information

The figures presented here are the results of the Labour Force Survey (LFS), a survey harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are used 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 people is lower than 30, data should be interpreted with caution.

Definitions

The level of education is measured using a detailed questionnaire, and the people are then divided into three groups.

Low-skilled people are people who list lower secondary education as their highest level of education. Medium-skilled people  are people who obtained a diploma of higher secondary education but not of higher education. High-skilled people obtained a diploma of higher education.

What is the difference between permanent job and temporary job

People who have an employment contract of unlimited duration are considered to have a permanent job.

People who don’t have an employment contract of unlimited duration are considered to have a temporary job.