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International Labor Comparisons

Charting International Labor Comparisons (2012 Edition)

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Section 2c: Labor market — Unemployment Previous | Next

On This Page

  • Chart 2.9 - Unemployment rates, selected countries, 2000–2010 (HTML) (PDF)
  • Chart 2.10 - Unemployment rates by age, selected countries, 2010 (HTML) (PDF)
  • Chart 2.11 - Unemployment rates by education, selected countries, 2009 (HTML) (PDF)
  • Chart 2.12 - Composition of unemployment by duration, selected countries, 2010 (HTML) (PDF)
  • Section 2c Notes - Sources and definitions
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Labor force statistics, such as employment and unemployment, are key indicators of how labor markets are functioning within and across countries. Labor force levels and participation rates provide information on the supply of labor in an economy. Employment levels and employment-population ratios measure the extent to which people are engaged in productive labor market activities, while unemployment levels and rates provide information on an economy's unused labor supply.

Chart 2.9

  • In a majority of the selected countries, unemployment rates were higher in 2010 than they were in 2000, in part because of the effects of the global recession at the end of the decade.
  • The global recession had the most profound effect on unemployment rates in Southern and Eastern Europe; unemployment rates increased sharply in those countries between 2008 and 2010.
  • Ireland and Spain had the largest increases in the unemployment rate between 2000 and 2010.

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Chart 2.10

Chart 2.10 Unemployment rates by age, selected countries, 2010

  • Unemployment rates for youth (teenagers and young adults) are generally higher than those for adults, partly because youth lack skills and work experience. They are therefore more vulnerable to economic downturns.
  • Unemployment rates for youth are highest in Eastern and Southern Europe. For countries in these regions, youth unemployment rates topped 30 percent for teenagers, and exceeded 15 percent for young adults.

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Chart 2.11

Chart 2.11 Unemployment rates by education, selected countries, 2009

  • In 26 out of 30 selected countries, college graduates had the lowest unemployment rates, followed by high school graduates; those with less than a high school education had the highest rates.
  • The unemployment rate gap between persons with less than a high school education and high school graduates was generally larger than the gap between college graduates and high school graduates, reflecting the value of a high school education in seeking employment.

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Chart 2.12

  • Long-term unemployment (1 year or more) made up the largest share of total unemployment in 13 out of 28 selected countries; the 12 countries with the largest shares of long-term unemployment were all in Europe.
  • Slovakia had the highest composition of long-term unemployment, with nearly 60 percent of the unemployed out of work for 1 year or more.
  • In Mexico, more than two-thirds of the unemployed were out of work for less than 3 months.

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Section 2c Notes


Data for 10 countries for most indicators are based on the BLS report International Comparisons of Annual Labor Force Statistics, Adjusted to U.S. Concepts, 10 Countries, 1970–2010. The 10 countries are the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. To facilitate international comparisons, BLS adjusts data for these countries to U.S. concepts. For specific adjustments and breaks in series, see the country notes associated with the BLS report.

Data for the remaining countries and for some indicators in their entirety—labor force participation rates by age (chart 2.3), part-time employment rates (chart 2.7), and unemployment by education (chart 2.11) and by duration (chart 2.12)—are based on data from the International Labour Office (ILO) or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Country coverage for labor force levels and participation rates, employment-population ratios, and employment growth (charts 2.1–2.6) is supplemented with data from the ILO database Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM). The KILM harmonizes data using econometric models to account for differences in national data and scope of coverage, collection and tabulation methodologies, and other country-specific factors, such as military service requirements. Although some differences remain between the KILM and ILC series, they do not materially affect comparisons across countries.

Country coverage for part-time employment rates, employment by sector, and unemployment data (charts 2.7–2.12) is supplemented with data from the OECD database OECD.Stat. The OECD generally uses labor force surveys and captures labor force statistics according to ILO guidelines, which facilitate cross-country comparisons, because these guidelines create a common conceptual framework for countries. However, except for total unemployment rates (chart 2.9), the OECD does not adjust data for differences that remain across countries in coverage and definitions that can affect international comparisons. See Labor Force Statistics in OECD Countries: Sources, Coverage and Definitions. For total unemployment rates, the OECD series used is the "harmonized unemployment rates" (HURs), which are adjusted to conform to the ILO guidelines in countries where deviations occur. For a full discussion of comparability issues, see the BLS article, "International unemployment rates: how comparable are they?"

Using multiple sources for an indicator to extend country coverage can introduce additional comparability issues, because each organization employs different methods for harmonizing data, if adjustments are made at all. Users should use caution when making international comparisons and are encouraged to review the methodological documents associated with each source.

In chart 2.6, the periods 2000–2007 and 2007–2010 are selected to compare a time of global recession (2007–2010) against pre-recessionary times (2000–2007). The chart shows the average annual growth rate during each period. Although 2007 is included in both, it represents two different annual changes that do not overlap: 2006–2007 in the first period and 2007–2008 in the second period.


Labor market data cover only civilians (i.e., members of the Armed Forces are not included). The labor force participation rate is the labor force as a percent of the working-age population. The labor force is the sum of all persons classified as employed and unemployed. The working-age population is either ages 15 and older or ages 16 and older, with the lower age limits varying by country. (See BLS and ILO documents from above sources.)

The employed are persons who, during the reference week, did work for at least 1 hour as paid employees; worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm; or did work as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a family member (for at least 1 hour according to the ILO guidelines but for at least 15 hours according to U.S. concepts). Definitions of the employed vary by country. (See BLS, ILO, and OECD documents from above sources.) The employment-population ratio is employment as a percentage of the working-age population. Part-time employment refers to employed persons who usually work less than 30 hours per week in their main job; in some countries, "actual" rather than "usual" hours are used. The part-time employment rate is the share of total employment that is part time and is also referred to as the incidence of part-time employment.

The unemployed are persons without work, who were actively seeking employment and currently available to start work. Definitions of the unemployed vary by country. (See BLS and OECD documents from above sources.) The unemployment rate is unemployment as a percentage of the labor force; it is the most widely used measure of an economy's unused labor supply. For unemployment rates by education (chart 2.11), the levels of educational attainment accord with the 1997 International Standard Classification for Education (ISCED). Less than high school corresponds to "less than upper secondary education" and includes ISCED levels 0–2 and 3C. High school or trade school corresponds to "upper secondary and post-secondary education" and includes levels 3A, 3B, and 4. College or university corresponds to "tertiary non-university and university" and includes levels 5–6.

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Last Modified Date: September 25, 2012