1. Economics
October 7, 2016updated 02 Aug 2021 9:36am

Which European cities have seen the worst unemployment?

By Jonn Elledge

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

You know, I was excited about this new database: 330 cities! Seventeen countries! Imagine the things we’ll learn, the stories we’ll tell!

Yes, I know, I’m a nerd. Shut up, you chose to read this.

Anyway. This is week three, and already I’m starting to worry slightly about the risk of repeating myself. Look at many of the variables in this new database, and the obvious conclusion is going to be “the UK is worse than you think”. It’s reminding me a bit of the UK-only database, in which the north-south divide kept showing up as a culprit over and over again, or those Church of England sermons in which it was always turned out to be Jesus.

So – in an attempt to prevent this eventually, this week, I’m going to look at a measure on which the UK is doing relatively well.

This chart shows the 20 cities in the Centre for Cities database with the highest unemployment rates as of 2011. We’ve colour coded them by country: maroon is Spain, blue is Italy, and as it turned out we didn’t need any more colours because look:

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These figures are five years old now: in 2011, the Eurozone debt crisis was at its height, and it wasn’t a great time to be a Mediterranean country which used the Euro.  

But nonetheless, that’s 12 Spanish cities and two Italian ones where more than a quarter of the workforce was out of work. That was really, really bad.

(Where’s Greece, you ask? Just off the chart: on this measure, Thessaloniki ranked 21st.)

So how does the UK compare? The British city which had the worst unemployment as of 2011 was Hull, where around 14 per cent of the population were out of work. Of the 330 cities in this database, it ranked 91st.

Hull in context. Click to expand.

In other words, the British city with the worst unemployment wasn’t in the worst quartile Europe-wide.

This probably explains some of the other figures in the database. One reason British GVA per worker is so low might be that similar GVAs are being divided among more workers. It’s possible British productivity has floundered specifically because our businesses decided to keep employing workers rather than finding ways to replace them with robots.

To finish off, here are the 20 cities with the least unemployment as of 2010. Once again, we’ve colour-coded by country: red cities are German, blue are Dutch, black are Swiss, pink is Danish, yellow is Polish…

Click to expand.

…and purple is British. As of 2011, two UK cities had among the lowest unemployment rate in Europe.

 Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t so bad after all.

That isn’t a typo, incidentally. There really is a Dutch city called ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It’s the capital of North Brabant and its name literally merans “the Duke’s Forest”. So now you know.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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