A labour market is inclusive when it does not exclude anyone, when it integrates society and enables anyone willing to work to take up a good job. From the point of view of sustainable development, it is important to strengthen the position of those who are often at disadvantage on the labour market, including women, very young and elderly persons, persons with disabilities and inhabitants of rural areas. The situation of these groups, although still worse than the average, generally improved between 2015 and 2020, which mostly resulted from a number of advantageous changes occurring on the labour market in that period. The changes observed between 2015 and 2019 were substantial enough to cause the situation in 2020 to remain relatively stable despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
The level of economic activity of inhabitants of Poland did not change significantly in the years 2015-2020. According to the Labour Force Survey (LFS), approximately 56% of population aged 15 and more were economically active in this period (i.e. either had a job or sought employment). There was a positive change, however, in their status on the labour market. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of employed persons increased by about 300 thous. (to 16.4 mln in 2020), and the employment rate grew from nearly 52% to over 54%. The unemployment shrank significantly in this period. The number of the unemployed fell by almost 60%, to less than 540 thous. persons, and the unemployment rate decreased from 7.5% to 3.2%, having become one of the lowest in the EU.
The situation on the labour market improved both in urban and rural areas. The economic activity and the employment rate among the inhabitants of rural areas were similar to the respective indicators relating to city dwellers; however those living in the rural areas were slightly more prone to unemployment than those residing in urban areas. In 2020, this difference was minor (the unemployment rate in rural areas stood at 3.3%, and in urban areas at 3.1%).
The employment in all voivodships increased between 2015 and 2020, and the unemployment fell in the same period (although some regions saw negative changes in this respect in 2020). Differences on the labour market situation across regions still persisted in the studied years: in 2020, the activity rate ranged from 53% in Śląskie voivodship to 60% in Mazowieckie, and the employment rate from 51% to 58%, respectively. What changed to a larger degree were the geographical differences in unemployment rates: the highest unemployment rate in 2020 was registered in Lubelskie voivodship (5.7%), and the lowest in Wielkopolskie (1.8%). This was reflected in the 2020 unemployment map by LFS, which was at a slight variance with its version from 2015 (when the region mostly afflicted by unemployment was Podkarpackie voivodship). The 2020 LFS unemployment map also differed from a map based on the unemployment register, according to which the region with the highest unemployment rate in 2020 was Warmińsko-mazurskie voivodship.
Women remained less active on the labour market than men in the period of 2015-2020, accounting for approximately 45% of the economically active population, and for over 60% of the economically inactive population. The activity rate among women stood at approximately 48%, compared to about 65% among men. One of the main contributors to this disproportion was the lower retirement age for women. However, a lower level of women’s economic activity could also be observed among the working age1 population (73% of women compared to 82% of men in 2020). The lower level of women’s economic activity resulted from the fact that it is women who are burdened with caring responsibilities to a greater extent than men. Providing care for children, seriously ill adults, or other personal or family commitments were the most frequent reasons for the economic inactivity in the group of women aged 25-59 in 2020 (65% of women economically inactive for the above-mentioned reasons compared to only 17% of men), and these reasons were also more frequently observed in 2020 than five years before (when nearly 52% women quoted them as a justification of their economic inactivity).
The labour market situation of economically active women was better in 2020 than five years earlier. However, in some aspects it remained worse than the situation of men, even though more women than men had tertiary education (58% of women aged 30-34 compared to 37% of men in the same age group). Women were still slightly more prone to unemployment than men, but as the unemployment rate in general fell between 2015 and 2020, this difference became small (3.3% of unemployed women compared to 3.1% of men). As regards the employment rate, it remained much lower among women than men (46% compared to 63%), despite the general improvement in this field. The same held true for the working age population (70% compared to 79%). Employment among mothers of young children remained less common than among women on average; and the value of the employment rate was decreasing along with the increase in the number of children. In contrast to the general trends, the employment rate for mothers of young children shrank between 2015 and 2020.
The differences between the earnings of men and women persisted. The gender pay gap in Poland, although one of the smallest in the EU, widened slightly in the studied period: in 2019, men earned on average about 9% more than women, while in 2015, this difference was 7%. The gender pay gap in the private sector, where it was much wider than in the public sector (nearly 16% compared to less than 4%), narrowed in the studied years. In 2019, likewise 2015, the most significant discrepancies between the earnings of men and women were observed e.g. in the financial and insurance activities and the information and communication, where men earned 30% more than women. A large pay gap between men and women was also registered among the employed in the wholesale and retail trade in motor vehicles; repair of motor vehicles (men earned 24% more in those industries than women). An opposite trend could be observed in construction, transportation and storage, as well as water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities, where on average women earned slightly more than men.
The situation of persons with disabilities improved slightly in the studied period along the general positive trends in both the employment and the unemployment rates. The share of economically active persons with disabilities (aged 16 or over) remained low (it had not changed considerably in the studied period), fluctuating around 17% between 2015 and 2020. However, the employment rate slightly improved (from below 15% in 2015 to approximately 17% in 2020), and the unemployment rate decreased significantly (from approximately 12% to about 5%).
Labour market participation depends on a variety of factors, age being one of them. The least active on the labour market are young persons (up to the age of 25), a part of whom continue their education, and the elderly persons, who in most cases withdraw from the labour market after reaching retirement age.
Young persons who enter the labour market are usually the least likely to find employment; as a result, it is among this group that the unemployment rate is the highest. However, in the years 2015-2019, the situation of this group improved considerably – the activity rate among persons aged 15-24 increased, as did the employment rate, while the unemployment rate (which exceeded 20% in 2015) decreased by half. What brought about unfavourable changes for this group was the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, while the position of most age groups on the labour market remained stable, that of young persons deteriorated. The pandemic had the most negative impact on persons aged 20-24, among whom the employment rate decreased significantly, from 56% in 2019 to 50% in 2020, and the unemployment rate grew in the same period (from 9% to 10%).
Economic activity gradually decreases after reaching the age of 50, which relates to both men and women. However, in Poland in the years 2015-2020, positive trends in this respect were observed, and they persisted despite the Covid-19 pandemic; among the group of 50-64, a distinct increase in the activity rate was observed (from 56% in 2015 to 62% in 2020) and in the employment rate (from 53% to 60%). Additionally, unemployment decreased among persons aged 50 and more, although to a lesser degree than among the general economically active population. Despite the improvement in this field, Poland remained in the group of the EU countries with the smallest participation of elderly persons on the labour market. This situation was partly caused by the fact that the retirement age in the majority of EU countries was higher than in Poland (the 2020 EU average of economically active persons aged 50-64 stood at 70%).