Unemployment in the six Western Balkan countries dropped to 16.2% from 18.6% over the last year and reached historically low levels in some of the countries, while employment increased by 3.9%, according to the Western Balkans Labor Market Trends 2018 report, launched by the World Bank and the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw) on March 19.
The governments of the six countries are working to improve employment, especially among young people. However, the report noted that youth unemployment remained high at 37.6%.
“Youth unemployment of 37.6% is a key challenge for the region. However, this rate is down from last year and all countries except Albania are experiencing the lowest levels of youth unemployment since 2010. Country rates range from 29% in Montenegro and Serbia, to more than 50% in Kosovo,” wiiw said in a statement.
According to the report, young people who become detached from jobs or education for long periods find it hard to reintegrate into the labour market. They are also earning 20% less than those who find employment sooner.
In a more positive development, 231,000 new jobs were created in the region over the past year with Kosovo leading in terms of the employment rise (up 9.2%), followed by Serbia (4.3%), Montenegro (3.5%), Albania (3.4%), Macedonia (2.7%), and Bosnia & Herzegovina (1.9%).
“The region has made great strides in improving labor market outcomes over the last year - meaning more people are finding jobs,” Linda Van Gelder, World Bank country director for the Western Balkans, was quoted as saying in the statement.
Although female employment rates are also rising, they still remain low by European standards. The employment rate for women across the region is 43.2%, varying from a low of 13.1% in Kosovo to a high of 52.3% in Serbia.
The gender gap in employment has also narrowed since 2010, ranging from 28.9pp in Kosovo to 9.8pp in Montenegro, showing that the economic trends in the region are positive.
The region needs to overcome a number of obstacles to employment, which in turn need to be addressed to reduce ongoing emigration from the region, especially common among young, educated people, the report noted. Among steps that could help are better linkages between secondary graduates and the labor market, as well as earlier interventions to retain students. Improving child care, care facilities for the elderly, securing flexible work arrangements and more part-time jobs would raise employment among women.