Europe’s job market is booming. So why are so many workers so angry?
Unemployment in Europe is at its lowest level in a generation. Ten million more people have jobs today than before the financial crisis a decade ago. Demand for workers remains high, with more job openings than ever before across the European Union. Of the 22 EU countries that have a minimum wage, all but Latvia raised theirs last year.
Yet behind the numbers is a shift that is changing Europe. A growing proportion of new jobs are part-time, temporary or self-employed positions that lack the benefits that European workers have long expected.
By last year, 14.2% of European jobs were temporary, compared with just 4% in the U.S.—leaving many workers without insurance, a pension or disability benefits.
The result is a surge in the ranks of Europeans who have jobs and still struggle to make ends meet, while watching the lives of many others improve.
“There are jobs being created, but they’re garbage jobs,” said Victor
Gerardo Ponce Arevalo,
a Spanish welder who defaulted on his mortgage in 2014, during the euro crisis, and now lives with his two daughters in subsidized public housing.
The share of eurozone workers at risk of poverty rose to 9.2% in 2018 (after peaking at 9.5% in 2016) from 7.9% in 2007.
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More than 15 million Europeans face precarious jobs, cuts in unemployment benefits and social programs cut by governments during the financial crisis. In Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere in Western Europe, that growing instability has fueled enthusiasm for fringe political movements and drained support for social-democratic parties that represented labor unions for decades.
In France, the yellow-vest protest movement that rattled the government for months was sparked last year by workers’ anger over living costs, including a gasoline tax that made commuting more expensive.