The slow but consistent recovery of the EU's economy continues, accompanied by a gradual increase in the employment rate and a gradual decline in the unemployment rate.

Such developments reflect the economic and employment growth in most Member States, although for a few Member States the economic and labour market recovery has not been as strong. To better understand the gradual labour market recovery, the new edition of the EU Employment and Social Situation – Spring 2016 Quarterly Reviewpublished today looks at the evolution of activity rates (or labour market participation) of different age groups.

Contrary to the US, the EU activity rate (those in employment or looking for work) has seen a steady increase since 2008, even throughout the recent and severe crisis.

  • The activity rate of those aged 15-64 was 72.8% of the total population 15-64 in the third quarter of 2015. This increase has been largely driven by an increase in activity rates of older age groups notably those aged 55-64.
  • The activity rate of those aged 55-59 has now approached the overall 15-64 (working age) activity rate.
  • The activity rate of those aged 60-64 has also increased and is now very close to the activity rate of young people aged 15 - 24 years for the first time in decades.

This is an important development in view of population ageing. Nevertheless, activity rates vary considerably across Member States from less than 65% in Italy to more than 80% in Sweden. The employment rate has now returned to its pre-crisis level but with a much wider gap between countries, from 55% in Greece to 80% in Estonia, Germany and Sweden. Unemployment continued to recede with 4.9 million fewer unemployed people since the April 2013 peak, but nearly 5 million more people unemployed in February 2016 than in March 2008.

The Quarterly Review also shows permanent and full-time jobs continue to increase, but at a slower pace than in 2014. The financial situation of EU households continues to improve, with more available income in nearly all Member States; however, financial distress remains high for households with lower incomes. 

Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen commented: "The increase in activity rates, notably of older age groups, is an encouraging sign in view of the ageing of European population. But we need to ensure that this growing number of people who are willing to work are well integrated into our labour markets. Skills are key to this. The new Skills Agenda for Europe that we will present in the coming weeks should make a major contribution to transforming higher activity rates into more high-quality jobs."

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