Jobless households

OECD Observer

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Unemployment is historically low in many OECD countries, and is below 10% in all but a few of them. But the picture for households, rather than just individuals, is less positive. According to Society at a Glance 2005, even in the UK, where unemployment is in low single figures, in 2000 as many as 13% of people lived in households headed by a person of working age where no one had a job.

In Germany, 16% of people live in such jobless households, the second highest of the countries covered. In France jobless households came to 11%, despite increases in employment rates. In the US, just 5% of people lived in jobless households.

While the share of the population living in jobless households has edged down since the mid-1990s in the OECD, the fact that higher employment did not lead to more significant declines in household joblessness reflects the growth in the proportion of two-earner households. High joblessness can lead to higher social distress and dependence on welfare services. Children growing up in jobless households are particularly vulnerable to poverty, and their educational and future employment prospects are affected.

Also, joblessness is more likely in single-parent households (32% on average compared to 5% in two-parent households). The trouble is, the proportion of lone-parent households is increasing, so employment may have to rise more significantly in the future to reduce both household joblessness and poverty.

©OECD Observer No 245, November 2004

Economic data


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