The balance: The Flemish labor market is less healthy than assumed – Companies

At 74 percent, the Belgian employment rate is below the euro area average, according to the latest figures from Eurostat. Flanders scores relatively well with 78.3 per cent. But there is no reason for euphoria, shows an analysis by labor economist Stijn Baert. Unemployment is low, but for the inactivity rate (non-employed who are not looking for work), Flanders scores moderately.

Despite persistent calls from companies to workers, the Belgian employment rate remains relatively low at 74 percent. This is slightly less than the European average of 74.7 percent and far from the score from reference countries such as the Netherlands (82%), Germany (80.8%) or Sweden (82.9%). This is shown by the latest labor market figures from Eurostat. It is thanks to Flanders that Belgium do not score worse. With 78.3 percent, the most prosperous region in Belgium comes close to the mythical limit of 80 percent. Brussels (66.8%) and Wallonia (68.8%) continue to perform worse.

Despite persistent calls from companies to workers, the Belgian employment rate remains relatively low at 74 percent. This is slightly less than the European average of 74.7 percent and far from the score from reference countries such as the Netherlands (82%), Germany (80.8%) or Sweden (82.9%). This is shown by the latest labor market figures from Eurostat. It is thanks to Flanders that Belgium do not score worse. With 78.3 percent, the most prosperous region in Belgium comes close to the mythical limit of 80 percent. Brussels (66.8%) and Wallonia (68.8%) continue to underperform, getting the unemployed to find work is therefore the message. But employment economist Stijn Baert (Ghent University) warns in his study Inactivity in Europe and the Belgian Regions that even helping all jobseekers find a job is insufficient to achieve an employment rate of 80 percent. He analyzed the Eurostat figures and added his own calculations. Stijn Baert points to a problem that he has to solve almost by nausea: the excessive number of inactive people. At 4.1%, Belgian unemployment among 25-64-year-olds (non-workers actually looking for a job) is lower than the euro area average (5.5%). However, the percentage of inactive people, at 21.8%, is well above the euro area average (19.8%). Inactive are unemployed who are not looking for a job. Baert divides them into five groups: the discouraged unemployed (who no longer receive benefits); persons belonging to the recruitment population but already retired; housewives and wives; long-term sick; and full-time students. Only 4 of the 27 EU countries do worse than Belgium: Greece, Croatia, Romania and Italy. In absolute numbers, there are 1,315,000 Belgians between the ages of 25 and 64 who are neither working nor looking for work. By gender, 1 in 6 men (17.2%) are between 25 and 64 inactive, compared with 1 in 4 (26.4%) women. “Still, male activity in particular is much worse than elsewhere. Only in Italy and Croatia is this inactivity even higher,” says Stijn Baert. However, the biggest challenge remains to guide people with an immigrant background into the labor market. No fewer than 44.2 percent of 25- to 64-year-olds with non-EU-27 nationality are neither working nor looking for work. No country in the EU-27 is worse off. Another striking conclusion from the Eurostat figures: the image that high inactivity is solely a problem for Brussels and Wallonia needs to be nuanced. It is true that the numbers south of the language line are very small. 24.5% of the inhabitants of Brussels are inactive. Wallonia is doing even worse than Brussels. 25.6 percent of the 25- to 64-year-olds are inactive there. Only Romania and Italy are doing even worse. But the Flemish figures are not encouraging either, with 19.2 per cent of 25- to 65-year-olds being inactive and therefore not even entering the labor market. It is slightly below the European average and worse than the Netherlands (15% inactive). And this while the tightness of the labor market in Flanders is among the highest in the EU. Stijn Baart’s analysis is therefore sharp: “In fact, Flanders is an easy version of Belgium, with low unemployment but moderate inactivity. We do not score better in Flanders than France for inactivity.” The Flemish labor market is therefore less healthy than expected. The Eurostat figures and Stijn Baert’s calculations have been thoroughly discussed by labor experts in recent days. In politics, it was pretty quiet. The federal government parties are apparently of the opinion that the limited labor market reforms agreed a few months ago (more working hours that make it possible to combine benefits and lack of employment, more education, …) are sufficient. Like the first cautious start to activating long-term sick leavers. Belgium’s encouraging ranking in the EU rankings shows that Rue de la Loi is too optimistic in this regard.

Leave a Comment