Employment and labour markets

What just happened? COVID-19 lockdowns and change in the labour market

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Published
19 October 2021
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Executive summary in 22 languages
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Sejbiet ewlenin

  • Employment fell most sharply early in the pandemic in the EU, with over five million fewer jobs than a year earlier. Temporary workers were disproportionately affected by the crisis, accounting for over three-quarters of net job losses in the EU27 during 2020. In terms of demographic group, low-paid women and younger workers were the biggest losers, suffering the sharpest employment declines during the early, most severe period of the pandemic.
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  • Employment fell most sharply early in the pandemic in the EU, with over five million fewer jobs than a year earlier. Temporary workers were disproportionately affected by the crisis, accounting for over three-quarters of net job losses in the EU27 during 2020. In terms of demographic group, low-paid women and younger workers were the biggest losers, suffering the sharpest employment declines during the early, most severe period of the pandemic.
  • Rather than a fall in the EU’s employment headcount, the peak of the pandemic saw an increase in the share of employed workers not working. These ‘furloughed’ workers accounted for around two-thirds of the decline in hours worked at the height of the crisis. State intervention and fiscal support proved crucial to protecting economies and labour markets in the face of this large, unanticipated shock.
  • The sectoral impact of the crisis was uneven and shaped largely by government lockdowns and social distancing measures. High social interaction, non-teleworkable jobs in sectors such as hotels, sales, restaurants and accommodation experienced the biggest declines in hours worked. Even sectors identified as essential across the Member States saw working hours drop. Conversely, jobs in knowledge-intensive services grew during the crisis as these sectors rushed to transform or digitalise work processes in response to social distancing measures and higher levels of remote work.
  • The most vulnerable workers in the pre-pandemic labour market experienced worsening socioeconomic conditions during the crisis. It will be critical in the recovery phase for policy makers to reflect on how more inclusive social protection schemes can serve as a buffer against an intermittent job recovery. Robust public and social partner support will also be required as more vulnerable workers face greater challenges in adjusting to the digital and green transition.
  • The share of workers working from home during the pandemic was many times higher than those who did so regularly before the COVID-19 crisis. Live survey sources estimate 20–60%, and official European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) data point to more modest increases, with 21% of workers working from home at least some of the time in 2020. These figures are still lower than the overall teleworkable share of employment in the EU27, which is estimated at 37%.
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Sommarju

The COVID-19 pandemic closed or limited many economic activities in 2020, with far-reaching impacts on the labour market. Employment losses at the outset of the pandemic were sharper than those experienced during the global financial crisis. Even greater declines in hours worked arose as a resultRead more

The COVID-19 pandemic closed or limited many economic activities in 2020, with far-reaching impacts on the labour market. Employment losses at the outset of the pandemic were sharper than those experienced during the global financial crisis. Even greater declines in hours worked arose as a result of the widespread state-supported furloughing of workers. The physical distancing policies of governments led to another significant and largely ad hoc adjustment – the shift to mass remote working for those workers whose jobs allowed it.

This report describes the employment and working time developments by sector and occupation through the first year of the crisis. It explores which categories of workers were most affected – primarily temporary workers, the young and low-paid women. It also assesses the extent to which remote working served as a buffer during the crisis, preserving jobs that might otherwise have been lost.

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Formats and languages

  • Report

    Number of pages: 
    90
    Reference no.: 
    EF21040
    ISBN: 
    978-92-897-2212-4
    Catalogue no.: 
    TJ-01-21-324-EN-N
    DOI: 
    10.2806/308937
    Catalogue info

    What just happened? COVID-19 lockdowns and change in the labour market

    Formats

    Cite this publication: 

    Eurofound and European Commission Joint Research Centre (2021), What just happened? COVID-19 lockdowns and change in the labour market, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • Executive summary

    Reference no.: 
    EF21040EN1
    Catalogue info

    What just happened? COVID-19 lockdowns and change in the labour market

    Author(s): 
    Eurofound

    Available for download in 22 languages

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  • Working paper

  • Tables and graphs

    The report contains the following tables and figures.

    List of tables

    • Table 1: Changes in employment levels, weekly hours worked and share of employees temporarily absent from work, year on year by quarter, EU Member States, 2019–2020
    • Table 2: Change in employment levels, weekly hours worked and share of employees temporarily absent from work, year on year by quarter, by age and gender, EU27, 2019–2020
    • Table 3: Changes in employment (%), year on year, by gender and sector, EU27, 2019–2020
    • Table 4: Top three jobs with biggest employment losses, by gender, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Table 5: Employment change by sectoral category (%), EU Member States, 2019–2020
    • Table 6: Relative change in weekly hours worked (%), year on year, by sectoral category, EU Member States, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Table 7: Relative employment change (%), by employment contract and sectoral category, EU Member States, Q4 2019–Q4 2020
    • Table 8: Proportion of female employment in sectoral categories (%), EU Member States, 2019
    • Table 9: Change in female employment across sectoral categories (%), EU Member States, Q4 2019–Q4 2020
    • Table 10: Main broad occupational employment trends, year-on-year shifts (%) by quarter, EU27, 2019–2020
    • Table A1: Values of the technical teleworkability and social interaction indices for ISCO-08 three-digit occupation groups
    • Table A2: Classification of sectors during lockdown, based on Fana et al (2020a)

    List of figures

    • Figure 1: Actual and trend estimate of the employment level (millions), EU27, 2019–2020
    • Figure 2: Changes in unemployment, employment and inactivity rates (percentage points), year-on-year comparison by quarter, EU27 and the US, 2019–2020
    • Figure 3: Total number of jobs supported by government measures (millions), by month, EU27, 2020
    • Figure 4: Transitions in labour market status (millions), EU27, Q3 2020–Q4 2020
    • Figure 5: Changes in labour market slack (percentage points), EU27, 2019–2020
    • Figure 6: Number of temporary lay-offs (millions), by quarter, EU27, 2019–2020
    • Figure 7: Temporary employees as a proportion of the total number of employees (%), EU Member States, 2018–2020
    • Figure 8: Employment change (%), by employment contract, EU Member States, Q4 2019–Q4 2020
    • Figure 9: Change in employment levels and hours worked (%), by employment contract and self-employment, EU27, 2019–2020
    • Figure 10: Employment shifts (thousands), year on year, by job–wage quintile and gender, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 11: Employment shifts (thousands), year on year, by job–wage quintile and broad sector, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 12: Change in number of workers temporarily absent from work (furloughed) (thousands), year on year, by job–wage quintile and gender, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 13: Announced restructuring job loss, according to whether or not COVID-19 was cited explicitly as a reason, and announced restructuring job creation, EU27 and Norway, Q1 2020–Q1 2021
    • Figure 14: Sectoral breakdown of announced job loss (%), according to whether or not COVID-19 was cited explicitly as a reason, EU27 and Norway, March 2020–March 2021
    • Figure 15: Employment distribution across sectoral categories (%), EU Member States, Q1 2020
    • Figure 16: Employment change, year on year (thousands), by sectoral category, total and furloughed workers, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 17: Change in share of furloughed workers (percentage points), year on year, by sectoral category, EU Member States, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 18: Employment change (thousands), year on year, across essential sectors at NACE Rev. 2 two-digit level, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 19: Employment change (thousands), year on year, across mostly non-essential sectors at NACE Rev. 2 two-digit level, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 20: Employment change (thousands), by employment contract and self-employment and sectoral category, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 21: Employment change (%), by working time and employment contract, across sectoral categories, EU27, Q4 2019–Q4 2020
    • Figure 22: Employment change (thousands), year on year, by gender and sectoral category, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 23: Change in weekly hours worked (%) and share of furloughed workers (percentage points), by gender across sectoral categories, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 24: Relative employment change (%), by age group across sectoral categories, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 25: Change in weekly hours worked (%), by age group across sectoral categories, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 26: Declines in working hours by broad occupation (%), year on year, according to indicator, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 27: Shifts in employment levels, share of workers on furlough and weekly hours worked, year on year, by occupational teleworkability, EU27, 2019–2020 (Q2 and Q4)
    • Figure 28: Employment shifts (%), by occupational teleworkability and detailed occupation, EU27, Q2 2019–Q2 2020
    • Figure 29: Proportion of employees usually working from home before (2019) and during (2020) the pandemic compared with the potential proportion of remote working (%), EU Member States

Research carried out prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020, and published subsequently, may include data relating to the 28 EU Member States. Following this date, research only takes into account the 27 EU Member States (EU28 minus the UK), unless specified otherwise.

Part of the series

  • COVID-19

    Eurofound’s work on COVID-19 examines the far-reaching socioeconomic implications of the pandemic across Europe as they continue to impact living and working conditions. A key element of the research is the e-survey, conducted in three rounds – in April and July 2020 and in March 2021. This is complemented by the inclusion of research into the ongoing effects of the pandemic in much of Eurofound’s other areas of work.

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