A recovery in the labor market has reduced poverty and improved social justice across the EU, according to the Bertelsmann Foundation. But the gap between northern and southern countries remains wide.
A "marked recovery" on the EU jobs market has noticeably improved opportunities and reduced the risk of poverty, according to the latest EU Social Justice index presented by the Bertelsmann Foundation.
Here are the key findings:
· Labor market data has improved in 26 of the 28 EU states.
· The risk of poverty has fallen slightly across the EU, but it remains high at 23.4 percent.
· The EU's unemployment rate fell to 8.7 percent, down from 11 percent in 2013 at the height of the debt crisis.
· Denmark, Sweden, Finland top the table, Germany ranks seventh.
· Greece came last, immediately preceded by Romania, Bulgaria and Italy.
· Of the countries hit by the EU debt crisis, Ireland and Portugal have shown the strongest recoveries.
· Poland's and Hungary's education systems have deteriorated, fueled by their populist governments.
· The gap between northern and southern states is still "substantial," with youth unemployment in the south a major issue.
North-South gap main issue
The report states that the differences in opportunity and social justice between the EU's northern and southern states remain large.
Although unemployment has dropped overall, as well as in crisis-hit countries like Spain and Greece, the jobless rate remains around or above 20 percent in those southern states.
In Greece, it says, more than half of young people are out of work. By contrast, in Germany, a mere 7.1 percent of young people are without a job.
The share of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in Greece stands at a "shockingly high 35.6 percent, followed by 27.9 percent in Spain and 28.7 percent in Italy," the authors noted.
Hungary, Poland criticized
The report reprimands the far-right governments of Hungary and Poland for a marked deterioration of the education system.
Poland's and Hungary's far-right governments have had a negative impact on education, according to the report
"We are seeing the right-wing populist governments in Hungary and Poland in particular making far-reaching changes to the education system and thereby reversing past achievements," lead author Daniel Schraad-Tischler said.
Across the EU, education opportunities have improved, with the proportion of students leaving school with no qualifications standing at 10.7 percent in 2016. In 2008, the figure was 14.7 percent.
Risk of poverty still high
Throughout the EU, 117.5 million people are still at risk of poverty or social exclusion — a slight improvement when compared to the height of the economic crisis in 2012/2013, but the figure constitutes nearly a quarter of the EU population, with children and teens particularly vulnerable.
The report found that Denmark, Finland and the Czech Republic were at the forefront of efforts to prevent poverty and social exclusion, with Greece and Italy bottom of the list.
The Bertelsmann annual EU Social Justice Index investigates levels of poverty, social cohesion, job opportunities, education, discrimination and health issues in the 28 EU member states. The latest index includes data collated up to October 2017.