The number of registered unemployed in Germany dropped to its lowest level in 24 years in September. But there are still plenty of jobless people looking for work in a market where skills are of the essence.
The German federal employment agency reported on Wednesday from its headquarters in Nuremberg that 88,000 fewer people were registered as unemployed in September than in August. But there are still 2.708 million registered unemployed, with the official jobless rate at 6.2 percent, the agency said.
The drop in unemployment compared to August was expected, since there is normally a seasonal adjustment after the summer, with more jobs on offer in September and students taking up apprenticeships. For that reason, a better assessment of jobless rates is by comparison with the figures from September a year ago.
That comparison also has Germany's labor force on a positive trend. Compared to September 2014, in September this year there were about 100,000 fewer registered unemployed.
"On the whole, the positive trend in the labor market is continuing," said Frank-Jürgen Weise, the head of the employment agency.
Trends in Europe
Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, also released employment figures on Wednesday - albeit for August, not September. The agency counts "unemployment" differently than does Germany's jobs agency. For Germany, Eurostat put forward an August official unemployment rate of 4.5 percent. For the Eurozone as a whole, it reported a seasonally adjusted rate of 11.0 percent.
For Greece and Spain, the numbers were 25.2 and 22.2 percent respectively. In the EU's 28 member states, 23 saw a decrease in unemployment compared to August a year ago, France, Finland and two others saw an increase, and Romania remained stable.
It's important to note that Eurostat's formal definition of unemployment, which is based on an International Labor Organisation (ILO) norm, doesn't nearly capture the total number of jobless.
The ILO definition of "unemployed persons" includes people who are without work, actively seeking work, and immediately available to work. However, it does not include three other categories of jobless people: Undermployed part-time workers, jobless people seeking work but not immediately available to take jobs, and jobless people available for work but not actively seeking it.
If those categories were included, the official number of unemployed would be much higher - even in Germany, as federal employment agency numbers show.
A closer look at the numbers
Germany's total population in July of this year - including children and seniors as well as working-age people - was estimated to be about 81 million.
In July, agency statistics showed 30.73 million people were regularly employed and paying into Germany's obligatory social insurance schemes. That number was 608,000 greater than during the same month a year earlier.
Of those 30.73 million, some 8.0 million were part-time and the rest (22.7 million) were full-time workers.
An additional 12.4 million people had work, but not as regular employees who pay into social insurance schemes. These include freelance or self-employed workers like lawyers, dentists, handymen or journalists, people who help out in family businesses such as restaurants, and a limited number of special professionals like judges or civil service employees. These 12.4 million include a mix of full-time and part-time workers.
The total number of employed persons in Germany, whether full- or part-time, was thus 43.1 million in September, according to the jobs agency.
Of those, some 5.2 million people are employed but either very poorly paid or working just a few hours a week, or both, such that they make less than 450 euros a month in total.
Unemployment rate figures: Treat with caution
The official unemployment rate of 6.2 percent also needs to be put in context. In addition to the registered unemployed, the federal employment agency reported 3.510 million registered underemployed - people who would like to be in regular work, but are instead taking part in government job-creation schemes or temporarily out of work due to illness.
In other words, they're not actually employed either. The total of registered unemployed and underemployed persons added together comprised 14.2 percent of the workforce in September.
These numbers put into perspective the much-mooted "labor shortage" which incoming refugees and migrants are meant to help address.
nz/hg (Reuters, dpa, Eurostat, Bundesagentur für Arbeit)