A client at a TE Office in Pasila, Helsinki, on 16 March 2023. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has reported that the number of unemployed job seekers fell by 6,500 to about 290,000 between December and January. People of immigrant backgrounds accounted for 14.6 per cent of the total, representing a roughly five-percentage-point increase from the pre-pandemic era, highlighted Helsingin Sanomat. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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THE NUMBER of unemployed foreigners has risen to record-high levels in Finland, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment on Tuesday published its latest employment bulletin, revealing that the number of unemployed foreigners decreased from its all-time record of 44,000 in December to 42,400 in January – the fifth highest total in history and the highest for the month of January.

The number of foreigners who are registered as unemployed job seekers has increased significantly in the 2020s, highlighted Helsingin Sanomat. Having stood at 25,400 in January 2020, the number surged at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – from 30,600 in March 2020 to around 40,000 in April 2020 – and seems to have settled at a heightened level.

The Finnish employment situation overall eroded momentarily as a result of the pandemic.

Between April and May 2020, for example, the share of unemployed job seekers of the labour force rose to 16.5 per cent. While foreigners accounted for less than 10 per cent of the total in May 2020, their share has increased in the post-pandemic era, peaking at 15,3 per cent in July 2023 before falling to 14.6 per cent in January 2024.

Also the overall situation has deteriorated, with unemployed job seekers presently making up the highest share of the labour force since July 2021.

The standing of immigrants in the labour market has been the subject of much debate in recent years. Hanna Sutela, a senior researcher at Statistics Finland, in December estimated in a blog that immigrants are in a weaker labour-market position than native-born people, pointing to their higher likelihood of working on a fixed-term or part-time basis, through an employment agency or for a platform business.

“The share of people in platform-based jobs is many times higher for foreigners than for Finns. Especially platform-based taxi and courier services rely largely on foreign labour,” she wrote.

She also highlighted that the share of immigrants who are in full-time, continuous work – also known as regular employment – is almost 10 percentage points lower than for native-born people. People of immigrant backgrounds, she added, find themselves in irregular employment due to lack of other employment opportunities more often than the rest of the population.

People of immigrant backgrounds are regularly unable to contribute to their full potential in support of the national economy, according to Sutela.

“The resources of workers from foreign backgrounds are left unused in regards to not only expertise, but also labour input more often than those of the Finnish population,” she added.

Quivine Ndomo, a researcher who recently completed her dissertation at the University of Jyväskylä, argued to Helsingin Sanomat earlier this month that immigrants are being made into a new lower class in Finland. Immigrants, she explained, often end up working on a fixed or temporary basis, meaning they are not entitled to paid holidays or employer-provided services.

“As long as you’re healthy and strong, you can pick up as many shift as you want and earn well. But if you get sick, you’re on your own,” she said to the newspaper.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (TEM) on Tuesday reported that the total number of unemployed job seekers was 291,100 at the end of January, marking a drop of 6,500 from December 2023 but a rise of 33,100 from January 2023.

Elina Pylkkänen, a state under-secretary at TEM, told YLE that a turn for the better may be around the corner, citing the effects of slowing inflation and expectations of interest rate cuts on consumer spending and business investment.

“Based on the figures for December and January, the situation is taking a turn for the better and labour demand will start to increase compared to the end of last year,” she said on Tuesday.

“It seems like the investments that weren’t made last year could be made this year.”

Pylkkänen also cautioned that the turnaround will not be reflected clearly in statistics until the summer. “I’m sure the impetus will be consumers becoming more confident about their own economy and the growth of the Finnish economy, and having the courage to spend.”

The year-on-year rise in the number of unemployed job seekers is largely a consequence of the difficulties in the construction sector, she analysed.

“It’s evident in that unemployment has increased especially among men, not so much among women. Women’s employment is currently better than men’s. These are clear signs of what sectors have been struggling.”

Not all economists are quite as optimistic.

Timo Vesala, the chief economist at Municipality Finance, stated to the public broadcaster that the erosion of the employment situation aligns with the economic difficulties witnessed in the past few years.

“Employment statistics have yet to have a turn for the better, nor are they about to have one, and the number of furloughs is clearly at a higher level than earlier,” he analysed. “It’s hard to say based on a couple of months that the economy is set to start rising. I’d be more cautious in that sense, and I wouldn’t say the economy will turn around in the early parts of the year – it’ll more likely be at the end of the year.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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