The recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic last year did not leave the labour market unaffected. As we showed in a previous post, the increase in unemployment in the European Union was mild compared to that in the US but showed significant variation between member states. In this post we focus on the course of the unemployment rate by age groups. This separation allows us to see whether the crisis that accompanied the pandemic affected young workers more than older ones.

In particular, we draw annual unemployment rate data from the OECD for the year 2020, the year of the pandemic, and in 2019, the previous year. The two columns on the left show the unemployment rate for young people (15-24 years old), while the two columns on the right, the unemployment rate for all other age groups (over 24).

We note that at the European Union level, youth unemployment has increased much more than unemployment among people over the age of 24. In particular, youth unemployment increased by 10% (from 15.1% to 16.6%) compared to an increase of 6.5% in the other age categories (from 5.9% to 6.3%). At level of member states, we see significant variations. For example, youth unemployment in Germany increased below average (7.7%), and remained very low – at the lowest level compared to all other member states. With regard to the countries with the greatest recession i.e., Spain, Italy and Greece, we note that Spain has seen significant increases in both youth unemployment (17.6%) and in the other age groups (9.4%). On the contrary, Italy and Greece have seen a decrease in unemployment among both young people and other age groups. In particular, youth unemployment in Greece declined very sightly remaining close to 35%, while unemployment in the other age groups fell by 5.6%. Similarly, in Italy the unemployment rate among those over 24 years old decreased by 7.4%.

To sum up, the increase in the average unemployment rate at younger ages can be due to the fact that young people are mainly working in the food and beverage services business, and also in atypical forms of employment, which were affected more by the crisis and the restrictive measures. Explaining the significant differences in the change in unemployment between EU member states needs further research. One possible explanation is the different intensity of short-term work programmes, which have protected workers from unemployment during this period. In any case, we will get a clearer picture of the effects of the pandemic on the labour market when economies return to a state of normality and protective measures are withdrawn.