What unemployment? Here’s where life in Europe isn’t so bad.

December 13, 2012

When the words "jobs" and "Europe" are in the same sentence these days, it's usually not good news. Unemployment in the euro zone hit a record high last month, with 11.4 percent, or 18.2 million people, out of work. More than half of younger workers in Spain and Greece are unemployed. Frustrations over the state of the economy have given rise to violent far-right groups in Greece and protests over job cuts in Spain, including a recent strike by employees at the luxury Parador hotels, which are set in historic castles and palaces.

But for some European nations, the jobs picture is actually a little rosy.

A protester covers her head in a plastic bag, meant to show that austerity measures are suffocating Greeks during a union protest in Athens on Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) Click here for more photos of austerity in Europe.
A protester covers her head in a plastic bag, meant to show that austerity measures are suffocating Greeks during a union protest in Athens on Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) Click here for more photos of austerity in Europe.

A new report from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions shows that employment in Europe's tiniest member states -- Malta and Luxembourg -- actually grew dramatically throughout the recession, and that Germany, Poland and Austria are also showing gains. (The blue lines are for 2010-2012, the green ones for 2008-2010:


Screenshot: Eurofound

Meanwhile, countries like Estonia (EE) and Latvia (LT), which suffered during the worst of the recession, from 2008 to 2010, have since bounced back and are adding jobs. It's only in the left part of the graph -- Ireland (IE), Spain (ES), Greece (EL) and Portugal (PT) -- where employment has been falling dramatically over the past four years. As the Eurofound agency notes, 

The Baltic republics, in particular Estonia, show positive signs of recovering from their steep recession slump, but employment levels in the eurozone ‘peripheral’
countries and in Slovenia have continued to decline in the most recent two years. For Greece, Portugal and Slovenia, the bulk of recent employment declines have taken place in the last two years (2010–12) rather than in the crisis period.

The report also found that some countries weathered their job shortages arguably better than others did. Another graph shows that in some member states, there was a drop in average hours worked, but employment stayed relatively stable, compared with countries such as Greece.


Screenshot: Eurofound

The Eurofound agency says the stable employment rates might be attributable to the time-sharing techniques that some employers use so that they cut workers' hours to avoid layoffs. Though employees lose some income in the deal, these types of arrangements have been shown to save jobs, as was the case in Austria and Germany.

So, why don't more Greek and Spanish workers just move to some of the more prosperous EU countries? Language is one factor. The Associated Press tells the story of Maria Menendez, a 25-year-old Spanish woman who could work in Germany as a veterinarian -- except that she doesn't speak German.

In fact, only 3 percent of working-age EU citizens live in an EU nation that is not their  native country, so the better-performing EU member states might not be able to share their job wealth, even if they wanted to. 

 

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