Report

EU – More than one in four working-age adults remain economically inactive | Eurofound

Unemployment in the EU continues to fall, however more than one in four of the EU’s working-age population are economically inactive; meaning they are not working and are either not seeking work or are not available for work. Furthermore, the vast majority of economically inactive people would like to work in some form. Eurofound’s new publication Reactivate: Employment opportunities for economically inactive people looks in detail at what could be Europe’s most important economic resource.

The number of economically inactive people has been steadily declining in the EU in recent years: in 2015 it stood at 27.5%, down significantly from 31.4% in 2002, and less than the pre-crisis figure of 29.7% in 2007. However, this substantial section of the population remains outside the labour market, and is not included in official employment statistics. While employment policy tends to focus primarily on the unemployed, there is scope for policies to focus more explicitly on the labour market integration of inactive people, and to harness their economic and social potential.

The new report examines groups within the inactive population that find it difficult to enter or re-enter the labour market and explores the reasons why. It also maps the characteristics and living conditions of these groups, discusses their interest in taking up employment and examines the barriers that prevent them from doing so. It finds that around four out of five inactive people would like to work at least some hours per week, depending on their financial needs, and approximately half would like to work 32 hours or more. The desire to work is particularly strong among students and homemakers.

The report also looks at strategies currently being implemented by Member States to promote the inclusion of those outside the labour market. It highlights that inactive people often face more than one barrier to employment, such as a low level of education coupled with care responsibilities, and stresses the importance of focusing on the specific needs of the inactive population.

Finally, the report underlines that Member States should fully implement the 2008 European Commission Recommendation on the active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market in the design and implementation of labour market integration strategies. In this regard, the European Pillar of Social Rights, which refers to inactivity as an issue in relation to inclusive education and lifelong learning, provides a unique and timely political impetus.

Key findings

  • Eurostat data from the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) online database show that 27.5% of people aged 15–64 years were economically inactive in 2015. However, this figure has been declining steadily, having been at 31.4% in 2002 and 29.7% in 2007, with no recorded increases between any of the years from 2002 to 2015. This is a significant decrease and should be acknowledged in any discussion of unemployment figures.
  • The inactive, nevertheless, constitute a group of considerable size. This means that, in the majority of EU countries, there is a substantial section of the population that is not working and is missed by unemployment statistics but has employment potential. While employment policy tends to focus primarily on the unemployed, there is scope for policies to focus more explicitly on the labour market integration of inactive people.
  • Many inactive people would like to work in some capacity; about four out of five say they would like to work at least some hours per week, and approximately half would like to work 32 hours or more. This desire to work is particularly strong among students and homemakers. However, more research needs to be done into understanding what these work preferences mean in practice, and matching preferences and skills with jobs may be a challenge.
  • The willingness of inactive people to work can be increased by policy measures. The report clearly shows that providing a facilitating context, such as access to quality jobs with flexible work arrangements, would encourage more to take up employment.
  • The inactive population is heterogeneous. The report focuses in particular on four subgroups within it: people who report that they are in education, homemakers, retired or disabled. These subgroups vary greatly in terms of their characteristics and the barriers they face.
    • Lack of work experience is most common among people in education and homemakers, and least common among disabled people and retirees of working age.
    • Homemakers and retirees are most likely to have a low level of education.
      Disabled people, especially, but also retirees more often report having a health problem; being at risk of depression is more evenly spread across all inactive subgroups.
    • About half of disabled people who are inactive report a high level of social exclusion (similar to that of long-term unemployed people), as do over one-quarter of homemakers.
    • Inactive people often face more than one barrier to employment. For example, those with a low level of education and those caring for elderly relatives often have to also care for children. Inactive people who feel socially excluded often lack work experience, have health problems, provide care for elderly relatives or are at risk of depression.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at More than one in four working-age adults in the EU remain economically inactive | Eurofound

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