EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Yearbook 2012

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Image of crowded squareAt the end of 2012, Europe was a region experiencing fracture across economic, geographic and social boundaries – between core and peripheral states in the EU, between insiders and outsiders in the labour market, between workers with good jobs and those with poor jobs or none, and between haves and have-nots in society. Eurofound’s fourth annual Yearbook on Living and working in Europe 2012 focuses on the impact of the crisis in terms of employment, material well-being and social cohesion, highlighting the content of Eurofound's research findings published over the course of 2012. Complementing this research-focused publication, the related Annual activity report of the authorising officer 2012 covers the Agency’s formal reporting on operations, staff and budget matters.

Economy and employment

Young man workingFor the EU27 as a whole, GDP fell over the course of the year and unemployment rose. While boosting employment is a key policy concern of the EU and its individual Member States, both were limited in what they could do to stimulate job creation, not least by high levels of public and private debt. And the austerity measures intended to address public debt started to put a brake on employment growth in the public sector, which had been one of the few areas of job growth.

A striking feature of the employment situation was its variation across the EU: at the end of 2012, unemployment stood at 27% in Greece and 26% in Spain. Labour markets in Austria and Luxembourg, however, were largely unaffected, with unemployment barely rising above 5%.

Young person with dogHowever, these averages mask one of the most important stories of the crisis – the disadvantage experienced by young people. For instance, over half (58%) of all young people in Greece and Spain were unemployed (58% and 56%). Across the EU, nearly one-third of jobless young people have been out of work for 12 months or more, leaving them significantly at risk of lasting exclusion from the labour market and society. Indeed, when we look beyond the figures for those actively seeking work to include those inactive in the labour market, and outside of training or education programmes, an even graver picture emerges of youth disadvantage. See Eurofound's work on young people and those not in employment, education or training.

Good quality jobs?

While finding and holding a job is a key concern for essentially all Europeans, the quality of that job and its working conditions remains a key concern. What makes people most satisfied in their job is straightforward: a good fit between work hours and family commitments; a feeling of being well paid for the work they do; good career prospects; and good leadership in the workplace. The extent to which these aspirations are met in jobs of good quality varies however, between countries, occupations, sectors and age groups.

Home officePeople working in information and communications, and in finance and insurance do best in terms of their job quality; those with a higher level of education also do better; while people on indefinite contracts do better than their counterparts on fixed-term contracts. Good quality jobs dominate in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, while low-quality jobs are most prevalent in Greece, Lithuania and Cyprus, as described in Eurofound's extensive outputs on quality of work.

How has life been affected?

The crisis has profoundly impacted daily life for Europeans, but not evenly: the impact has been greater on vulnerable groups in society. In addition, those countries suffering debt crises and eastern European countries in general have suffered more, diverging from the European ‘core’ in terms of their quality of life.

Findings from Eurofound’s research published during 2012 demonstrate a fall in living standards for large sections of the EU population, especially those facing particular disadvantages. Around 35% of European citizens saw their household’s financial situation worsen – particularly households in the bottom quarter of the income spectrum, with 45% having experienced a worsening of their income.

Supermarket sceneIn almost all Member States, the proportion of people who reported difficulty making ends meet was higher in 2011 than in 2007, rising by well over 10% in Estonia, France, Greece, Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the UK. The findings also suggest that for higher-income households, over-indebtedness has played a large role in their financial problems, even households not previously at risk of poverty abruptly finding their finances out of control as a result.

However, despite the bleak economic picture, life satisfaction remained relatively high for the EU as a whole; and although in many of the countries that had the highest satisfaction ratings in 2007 it had dropped noticeably, it still remained high in absolute terms. But one group that is particularly disadvantaged in terms of life satisfaction is older people in eastern Europe. While people over 65 tend to be more satisfied with life than other adults, in many eastern European Member States (especially Bulgaria, Lithuania and Romania), this age group was notably less satisfied than the average. This points to the ongoing deprivation that older people in these countries have experienced – first, following the transition to a new economic regime, and then having this compounded by the economic crisis.

Social cohesion has also suffered with the crisis:  the prolonged economic slump and the apparent inability of political institutions at national and EU level to resolve it have dented public confidence in political leadership, and this is reflected in the trust that people place both in institutions and in their fellow citizens. And at the same time there has been a notable increase in perceptions of tension between the rich and poor, rising from 30% in 2007 to 36% in 2011. This in part reflects the economic difficulties of many countries, but also reflects a global trend of growing income inequalities. Learn more in the third European Quality of Life Survey and the presentation of its data in the Survey Mapping Tool.