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Unemployment rate at 10%, every fifth young person without work

Statistics Finland reports that the unemployment rate in Finland reached ten percent in June 2015, up from 9.2 percent one year earlier. Youth unemployment is over 22 percent already, with no signs of improvement in sight because there are no jobs or internships to be had.

Image: Sampsa Tervaharju / Yle

According to a Labour Force Survey from Statistics Finland, there were 280,000 unemployed in June 2015, a number 22,000 greater than one year earlier.

This put June’s numbers at 10.0 percent of the population, 0.8 percentage points higher than June of 2014. Men’s unemployment rate was 10.5 percent and women’s 9.4 percent.

The Employment Ministry utilizes a different method for calculating unemployment, and its figures from the end of June show a total of 368,900 jobseekers, or close to 32,000 more than one year earlier.

There were over 110,000 long-term unemployed – people who have been unemployed and seeking work for more than a year - in June, an increase of close to 20,000, according to the Ministry.

Ministerial advisor Petri Syvänen says long-term unemployment was last this severe 17 years ago, in the summer of 1998. He says Finland passed the one critical hundred thousand mark in this area in January of this year.

The ‘disguised’ portion of the population

In addition to the groups of employed and unemployed, Statistics Finland keeps statistics on a third group: the almost 1.3 million-person-strong inactive population. This June 2015 figure was also 18,000 higher than one year earlier.

Of the inactive population, 153,000 persons were in so-called ‘disguised unemployment’. Statistics Finland uses the term disguised unemployment to refer to the persons outside the labour force who would like gainful work and would be available for work within a fortnight, but have not looked for work in the past four weeks. People in this category may have given up searching for a job, are pursuing studies, are caring for their children or have withdrawn from the job market for health reasons.

Young people have it the worst

Perhaps the most worrying development in the Finnish labour market is the rise in youth unemployment. In June 2015, there were a total of 644,000 young people living in Finland who were between the ages of 15 and 24. Of them, 345,000 were employed and 101,000 unemployed.

New Statistics Finland figures peg the June percentage of 15 to 24-year-old unemployed at 22.7 percent, up two percentage points from one year previous. 

Employment Ministry numbers show that there were over 40,000 unemployed jobseekers under 25 in late May, but by the end of June, that number had jumped to over 55,000.

Image: Yle News Graphics

The increase indicates to some that Finland’s attempts to mitigate joblessness among the youth have proven unsuccessful. Others believe the numbers would be even worse without them.

Former Employment Minister and MP Tarja Filatov defends government projects to assist Finland’s unemployed youth, like the much-touted ‘Youth Guarantee’. She says they have been successful at helping young people draw up personal employment plans soon after graduation. The problem, she says, is that Finland’s dire economic situation crushes their best-made plans quickly, as the jobs just aren’t there.

“To make matters worse, there are not enough resources devoted to labour policies at present. We can’t use the Sanssi cards or other subsidies,” she says. 

A Sanssi card is a TE jobs office programme offering companies that hire unemployed youth at least a 30 percent pay subsidy for their payroll costs. The subsidy is awarded for a varying time period, depending on the length of young person’s previous unemployment. Several TE offices in Finland have announced that their Sanssi card quotas are already full for the year, and further funding is unlikely.

“One-third of young people are still unemployed after three months, which is too long,” Filatov continues.

Government goal vs reality

Helena Helve of the University of Tampere agrees with Filatov that projects like the Youth Guarantee are beneficial.

“It is a great system, but it doesn’t have enough resources be implemented well. There just aren’t enough work and internship positions to be had. Young people can become disillusioned after they become excited about a new opportunity in a training course and then nothing comes of it,” Helve says.

One of the new government’s goals is to encourage young people to enter the job market earlier, after achieving what amounts to their Bachelor’s degree in Finnish higher education. In reality, however, the weak employment scene forces many to continue their costly studies even longer.

A total of 724 million euros have been set aside in 2015 for government funding for subsidy programmes like the Sanssi card, as well as jobs training opportunities, start-up grants and other employment services. In proportion to the number of unemployed people who are in need of the services, however, there is less money available to combat the problem than in years previous.