Unemployment reaches alarming levels in Brussels and Wallonia

Unemployment reaches alarming levels in Brussels and Wallonia
Job centre in Brussels. Credit: Lauren Walker/ The Brussels Times

Unemployment in Wallonia and Brussels has risen to extraordinarily high levels in recent months, with some parts of the country registering alarming rates of joblessness.

Figures recently released by Forem and Actiris (the public employment services for Wallonia and Brussels respectively) show that at the end of February, the unemployment rate in Wallonia reached 13.8%; in the Brussels-Capital Region it was 15.3%. Molenbeek is the municipality with the highest unemployment rate (21.8%).

Elsewhere in Belgium also registers extreme levels of unemployment: the municipality of Farciennes – just east of Charleroi – has a 25% unemployment rate. In Charleroi itself this is 23.8% and in Liège 25.5%. Unemployment is rising especially rapidly in Wallonia, which now registers almost 20,000 more unemployed than this time last year.

Peril of deindustrialisation

Experts attribute growing joblessness to pandemic-related layoffs, as well as the energy and general inflation crisis. These threaten to hollow out Belgium and Europe's industrial base.

Had it not been for significant government aid, the crisis would have been considerably worse: "Wallonia has not stood idly waiting for the storm to pass," an unnamed member of the region's employment minister told DH. "Hundreds of millions of euros have been injected into companies to limit social disruption. Without this support, the job losses would undoubtedly have been much greater."

Yet Muriel Dejemeppe, a Professor of Economics at UCLouvain, cautions that such government support only addresses the symptoms rather than the root of Belgium's deepening economic malaise: "Wallonia has suffered greatly from deindustrialisation. Thousands of people with low qualifications lost their jobs when coal mines were closed. With their household income squeezed, these communities may have been unable to offer a successful education to their children that would have led to qualifications valuable in today's labour market."

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Dejemeppe's analysis is supported by the fact that Flanders, which did not suffer comparable levels of deindustrialisation, registered an unemployment rate of only 6% last month — less than the level in Wallonia.

"The major gap between French and Flemish speakers has nothing to do with willpower," wrote DH columnist Alexis Carantonis. "What does matter is the historical-economic context. Brussels is a large cosmopolitan city with huge socio-economic gaps and half of workers live in Flanders or Wallonia. By contrast, Flanders benefits from better education. Wallonia has struggled to recover from the death of its industrial base, such as the steel industry."

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