Study reveals the impact of long-term unemployment on job prospects in Belgium

Sarhan Basem
credit: cnbc

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – Long-term unemployment significantly reduces job prospects, with those unemployed for over a year facing a 21% lower chance of employment, according to research by UGent. Short-term unemployed candidates fare best in job searches.

What impact does long-term unemployment have on hiring?

“It is not that you are unemployed that makes the big difference for a potential employer. It is how long you have been unemployed” This is the conclusion drawn by doctoral researcher Liam D’hert of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at Ghent University. Together with his supervisors Louis Lippens and professor of Labor Market Economics Stijn Baert, he organised 67,000 fictitious job applications from 28 international studies.

It shows that people who have been unemployed for at least a year have a 21 per cent lower chance of finding a job. These chances decrease even further for candidates who have been unemployed for up to a year and a half or longer. 

Why do employers prefer short-term over long-term unemployed candidates?

Employers see long-term unemployment as a sign of less motivation, competence and productivity. There is a flip side to the coin: those who have been unemployed for six months or less have the best job prospects of all. Even better than people who are still employed by another employer.

“Perhaps because those applicants still have to complete a notice period, while unemployed people are immediately employable,” says D’hert. “Moreover, employers assume that the motivation and skills of short-term unemployed people are still intact.”

How does unemployment duration vary across Belgium’s regions?

All in all, 71.9 per cent of the active population will be working in Belgium in the first quarter of 2024. As is known, Flanders (76.7 per cent) is doing much better in this respect than Wallonia (66.2 per cent) and Brussels (63.3 per cent). In the first three months of 2024, Belgium has around 302,000 unemployed people, despite the tightness of the labour market. A mismatch between the competencies of people looking for a job and the vacancies at companies is often pointed out, but the UGent study focused exclusively on the perception of employers.

How do employers perceive job applicants with migration backgrounds?

Researchers also note that long-term unemployment is not an additional problem for people with a migration background. “People with a migration background are consistently less likely to be invited to a job interview,” says postdoctoral researcher Louis Lippens. “Employers assume that this means they are more likely to be unemployed for longer, which means that long-term unemployment weighs less heavily.”

What strategies can enhance job search success amid unemployment?

Limiting unemployment benefits over time is one of the hot topics in the formation of the federal government. Four of the five parties at the table want to limit unemployment benefits over time. 

“A stoppage after about two years is an intervention that seems to come too late,” says 

Professor Baert. “It is crucial that unemployed people apply for a new job as soon as possible.” He sees more benefit in playing with “degressivity”, a measure that he has long advocated.

In addition, unemployment benefits for those who lose their jobs would be higher at first but would decrease more quickly. For example, after three months and again after six months. The idea is that the incentive to find a new job as quickly as possible is higher. “That seems more decisive to me,” says Baert.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.