In March 2020, the month when COVID-19 containment measures began to be widely introduced by Member States, the euro area seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 7.4%, up from 7.3% in February 2020. The EU unemployment rate was 6.6% in March 2020, up from 6.5% in February 2020. These figures are published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

Eurostat estimates that 14.141 million men and women in the EU, of whom 12.156 million in the euro area, were unemployed in March 2020. Compared with February 2020, the number of persons unemployed increased by 241 000 in the EU and by 197 000 in the euro area. 

Youth unemployment

In March 2020, 2.763 million young persons (under 25) were unemployed in the EU, of whom 2.275 million were in the euro area. In March 2020, the youth unemployment rate was 15.2% in the EU and 15.8% in the euro area, up from 14.8% and 15.4% respectively in the previous month. Compared with February 2020, youth unemployment increased by 59 000 in the EU and by 52 000 in the euro area, Eurostat data showed.

Unemployment by gender

In March 2020, the unemployment rate for women was 7.0% in the EU, up from 6.7% in February 2020. The unemployment rate for men was 6.3% in March 2020, compared with 6.2% in February 2020. While in the euro area the unemployment rate remained stable for men in March 2020 compared with February 2020 (at 7.0%), it increased from 7.6% to 7.8% between February and March 2020 for women.

These estimates are based on the globally used International Labour Organisation standard definition of unemployment, which counts as unemployed people without a job who have been actively seeking work in the last four weeks and are available to start work within the next two weeks. The COVID-19 confinement measures introduced in March 2020 have triggered a sharp increase in the number of claims for unemployment benefits across the EU. At the same time, a significant part of those those who had registered in unemployment agencies were no longer actively looking for a job, e.g. limited by the confinement measures or no longer available for work, for instance, if they had to take care of their children during the lockdown. This leads to descrepancies in the number of registered unemployed and those measured as unemployed according to the ILO definition.