Unemployment Rates, OECD – Updated 11 March

1.6 percentage points higher than in February 2020

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10 Mar 2021 – The OECD area unemployment rate was stable at 6.8% in January 2021, remaining 1.6 percentage points above the level observed in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the labour market.[1]

In January 2021, the unemployment rate was stable in the euro area as well, at 8.1% for the third consecutive month, 0.8 percentage point above its February 2020 level. The largest declines in this area, of 0.2 percentage point or more, were recorded in Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, while increases of 0.2 percentage point or more were observed in Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and the Slovak Republic.

The unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point in the United States (to 6.3%) in January, and more recent data show that it declined further, by 0.1 percentage point, in February 2021 (to 6.2%), along with a decrease in the number of people on temporary lay-off. In January, declines of 0.2 percentage point or more were also observed in Australia (to 6.4%), Colombia (to 14.3%) and Israel (to 4.5%), while a marginal decline was registered in Japan (to 2.9%). The unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage point in Mexico (to 4.5%), by 0.6 percentage point in Canada (to 9.4%) and by 0.9 percentage point in Korea (to 5.4%, its highest level since October 1999).

The OECD unemployment rate for women (at 7.0%) remained 0.4 percentage point above that for men (at 6.6%) in January 2021. This gap was about the same level as in February 2020, and well below the 0.9 percentage point observed in April 2020. The OECD youth unemployment rate (people aged 15 to 24) decreased slightly to 14.0% in January (from 14.2% in December).

More generally, it should be noted that unemployment statistics do not account for the full amount of labour market slack due to Covid-19, as some non-employed people may be classified as “out of the labour force”, because, due to the pandemic, they are either not able to actively look for a job or are not available to work.[2]

Link to underlying data – Source: Labour Force Statistics‌‌

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OECD unemployment rates by gender

The measures put in place by national governments to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) may have impacted on the ability to field surveys, and so, in turn, on the quality of statistics typically produced. In addition, because of differences in national practices used to determine whether individuals are unemployed when under confinement, international comparability has also been affected. See the note on the divergence in employment and unemployment statistics during the Covid-19 crisis.


[1] Some care is needed in interpreting the fall in the OECD area unemployment rate compared to the April 2020 peak, as this largely reflects the return of temporary laid-off workers in the United States and Canada, where they are recorded as unemployed. For Canada and the United States, the statistical treatment of people on temporary layoff is different from other countries, where these people are typically recorded as employed. See the note on the divergence in employment and unemployment statistics during the Covid-19 crisis on next page.

[2] The ILO guidelines define the unemployed as “all those of working age who were not in employment, carried out activities to seek employment during a specified recent period and were currently available to take up employment given a job opportunity”. Some not-employed people may be classified as “inactive/out of the labour force” because, due to the pandemic, they are either not able to actively look for a job even if they are available to work or are not available to work because of family responsibilities as schools and care services are closed.

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