In 2020, the labour market in the EU was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data released on Wednesday by Eurostat, the employment rate for persons aged 20-64 dropped to 72.4%, down by 0.7 percentage points (pp) in comparison to 2019. The employment rate for men of that age group stood at 78.1%, down from 79.0% in 2019. The employment rate for women was 66.8%, down from 67.3%. This development led to a further decrease in the gender employment gap, to 11.3 pp, in comparison to 11.7 pp in 2019. The employment rate was 74.9% in Cyprus and 61.1% in Greece.
Among Member States, all but three Member States recorded a decline in the employment rate between 2019 and 2020. Sweden showed the highest employment rate at 80.8%, while the lowest was observed in Greece with 61.1%. The largest drops in the employment rate between 2019 and 2020 were recorded in Spain (-2.3 pp to 65.7%), Ireland (-1.7 pp to 73.4%) and Bulgaria (-1.6 pp to 73.4%). The increases were observed in Malta (+0.6 pp to 77.4%), Poland (+0.6 pp to 73.6%) and Croatia (+0.2 pp to 66.9%).
Since the first quarter of 2020, the labour market has been affected by measures taken by EU Member States to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some of these measures, had either a direct or indirect effect on the number of working hours of employed people.
In the EU, in the fourth quarter of 2020, the index of total actual hours worked in the main job (computed using the year 2006 as the reference with an index of 100 points) dropped to 96.8 index points from 101.8 index points a year earlier. This corresponds to a fall of -5.0 index points. A more significant decline was observed in the second quarter of 2020, when the index slumped to the lowest level of 85.9 index points (a total decline of -15.9 index points) before rising again the next quarter.
Examining the gender difference over the same period, the decline in total actual hours worked in the main job was even more important for women than for men; total actual hours worked in the main job fell by -6.1 index points for women, whereas the amount of hours fell by -4.3 index points for men. Moreover, the index of total working time for women registered a bigger fall than for men between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020 (-18.5 points versus -14.3 points) as well as between the third and the fourth quarter of 2020 (-1.7 points versus 0.2 points).
Among the different occupation groups, the service and sales workers experienced the largest declines in the number of working hours in all four quarters of 2020 (when compared to the same quarter in 2019). Specifically, at the EU-level, the working hours of workers in this occupation group fell by -8.5% in the first quarter of 2020 (when compared with the same quarter of 2019), -28.7% in the second quarter, -7.7% and -16.2% in the third and fourth quarters respectively.
At the country level, all EU Member States experienced declines in the number of working hours for service and sales workers in the four quarter of 2020 when compared with the same quarter of the previous year. The only exceptions were Luxembourg and Romania, where there was a reported increase in the first quarter of 2020 (+7.8% and +2.1% respectively), as well as Denmark and Estonia, which reported increases of +0.5% and +1.5% respectively in the third quarter.