Overview of the COVID-19 effects on employment during 2020

The ‘COVID-19 Regional Labour’ issued the ‘Overview of the COVID-19 effects on employment during 2020’ with evidence from Cyprus, France, Spain, Italy, Malta, Croatia and Portugal.

The first conclusion is the geographically unequal spread of the pandemic during 2020. As expected, metropolitan areas with high concentration of population and production, such as Milan, Bergamo, Madrid and Iles de France, saw the first locally skyrocketing infection rates. Besides the local position in the global value chain represented in the case of central areas or commercial hubs, tourism destinations also exhibited a particular vulnerability. Nonetheless, a closer look would reveal regional differentiations relative to the economic paradigm. A comparison between Catalunia, Andalucia, Illes Balears and the Greek islands shows that irrespective of tourist arrivals, the vulnerability of those areas depends also upon the duration of the tourism season and the number of employees on tourism related jobs. Longer seasons and higher employment rate in tourism increased regional vulnerability against the pandemic. The picture becomes more complicated when Covid-19 cases are weighed by regional populations. As expected, the highly urbanized regions top the rankings in terms of cases per 100k people, but the opposite is not confirmed too.  Even regions with low population density were found exposed to the virus such as Bolzano in Italy, La Rioja and Communidad Foral de Navarra in Spain or Western, Eastern Macedonia and Thrace in Greece.

The expected impact upon employment presents significant regional differentiations too. Compared to 2019 it was only Malta and Cyprus that recorded a positive change in employment. In the rest of the focus countries total employment contracted significantly. Generally, the expansion of the infections had its impact upon jobs, not from a regional point of view, however. Despite the high infection rates, metropolitan areas in Greece and Portugal saw a positive annual employment growth. While tourism dependent coastal and island regions, such as South Aegean, Crete, Algarve, Illes Balears, Murcia, Andalucía, Sardinia, and Sicily, regardless of their infection rate experienced considerable decrease in job vacancies. The only exception to that trend were the coastal regions of France. Both the industrial north or the service-dependent south, generally maintained or increased their employment levels. Similar to those findings the accommodation and food services – central to tourism – were the most affected in the countries under study. A regional approach reveals, though, that areas attracting internal tourism mitigated the losses, compared to those depending upon international arrivals. More mixed was the image in transportation, storage, retail, manufacture, and agricultural production with generally marginal differences and some national exceptions. Key to understand those cases is the way that each state defined “essential industries”.

Generally, the labour market environment for youth has been unfavourable in 2020. Spain recorded a 19% increase compared to 2019, followed by France (17%), Malta (16%) and Cyprus (13%). Nevertheless, and despite the pandemic-driven changes in socio-economic conditions, both Portugal and Greece saw NEET contraction between 2019 and 2020 (-5.5% and -3.1%). Again, the regional perspective is mixed. Among all 75 study regions, the largest increase of NEETs was recorded in three Spanish regions, Pais Vasco (109%), Cantabria (88%), and Catalonia (77%). By way of contrast, Calabria in Italy (-37%), Norte in Portugal (-28%), and Ipeiros in Greece (-28%) demonstrated the steepest decrease.

An overview of those trends indicates that metropolitan areas tend to have more resilient youth labour markets compared to peripheral and less densely populated regions; while GDP per capita stands in a positive correlation with employment change: wealthier regions have increased their employment rate. On the other hand, a negative correlation was identified between employment and sectors with higher propensity for suspension of economic activity. Those expected trends produced mixed results in 2020 because of, amongst else, the varying implementation of recovery policies by national governments. The level and intensity of employees’ protection against dismissals and redundancies effectively contained the effects of the pandemic upon the labour market. Yet, the major trends of the regional geography of the pandemic are very much visible.

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