Estonian unemployment rate soars

  • 1999-03-18
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - The unemployment rate in Estonia has grown rapidly over the past few months and exceeds last year's rate by one-fourth.

The number of people looking for work through state employment offices in February was 41,300, an increase of 6 percent over January and up 25 percent from February 1998.

Meelis Paavel, governor of the Jogeva province, said the main reasons behind the increase of unemployment are the decline of the Russian market and the increasing efficiency of agricultural companies.

According to the Estonian Labor Market Department, job-seekers made up 4.8 percent of the total number of the country's residents between 16 and pension age.

Research carried by the Statistics Department in the second half of 1998 showed that the unemployment rate is much higher, almost 10 percent. Ludmila Smirnova, a specialist at State Labor Market Board, said only half of job-seekers usually register at the employment offices.

Not every jobless person can get benefits from the state, they have to meet certain criteria to receive training or a half-year benefit. Only 26,800 out of 41,300 people registered with state unemployment offices receive a 400 kroon ($28) unemployment check.

Some specialists claim only one-third of the registered job seekers really want to find a job, most are actually interested in training. There are also a number of people, who take seasonal jobs and rely on unemployment benefits between the seasons.

The unemployment rate was the highest in the northeastern Ida-Viru region, where it stood at 8.6 percent of the working-age population. On the western island of Saaremaa, the rate was 7.2 percent and in the Valgamaa County in south Estonia, it stood at 6.8 percent.

The unemployment rate was the lowest in the northern Laane-Viru county (2.5 percent).

Saaremaa and Tallinn also accounted for the largest increase in unemployment compared to last year. Unemployment increased by 50 percent on the island, and by 38 percent in the country's capital.

Smirnova said about two-thirds of the job-seekers in Tallinn are Russian speakers, but in Ida-Virumaa, where the share of Russian speakers is the largest in the country, the problem is tied to closed industries and language troubles.

Women made up 57.8 percent of registered job seekers but according to the statistics department, the men's share is bigger. This is probably because men are too proud to ask for help.

The labor market board divides unemployed people in three age categories: older than 50; 25-49; younger than 25. The first and last groups each make up about 18 percent of the total number of job-seekers.

About 43 percent of the job-seekers have a secondary education, 28 percent have a basic education, 22 percent have acquired professional secondary education and only 8 percent have a higher education. Most of the job-seekers are not willing to take odd jobs, especially in public places.

In some cases, the state supports companies that employ people in the so-called risk group, such as the handicapped, mothers with young children, former prisoners, youngsters and elderly people who have less than 70 days left before retirement.

The state also supports opening a new business with 10,000 kroons.