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The labour market impact of COVID-19: early evidence for a sample of enterprises from Southern Europe


  • Allan Webster
  • Sangeeta Khorana
  • Francesco Pastore


Purpose - The choice of Southern Europe is partly based on the observation that the sample includes a number of countries whose economies faced more severe difficulties than elsewhere in Europe. Economically they were less able to absorb the economic shock posed by COVID-19. It is also partly based on the characteristics of the pandemic. A number of countries in the sample were amongst the earliest in Europe to be hit by the pandemic and a several were harder hit in terms of both morbidity and mortality. Design/methodology/approach - This study uses evidence from World Bank enterprise surveys of a sample of firms from six countries in Southern Europe. It examines the early evidence of the effects of COVID-19 on labour markets. The economic consequences potentially cover a wide range of issues. The focus of this study is on firm level evidence of the effect on labour. The evidence and the analysis are provided at a time when the pandemic is still in progress. The authors use both traditional regression analysis and IPWRA to assess the joint effect of loans versus government support on, firstly, the change in sales revenues and, secondly, the number of weeks that the firm would expect to survive with no sales revenues. Findings - The study suggests that, despite efforts to support firms and hoard labour, there is a prospect of a significant number of firm closures with a consequent loss of employment. Temporary firm closures also represent a substantial loss of labour weeks. These are partly related to a significant number of workers subject to furloughs. The empirical findings suggest that COVID-19 cases and deaths have directly affected firm sales but government containment measures, particularly closures, have more strongly affected firms. Losses of sales were unsurprisingly related to losses of employment. Remote working has contributed to sustaining employment but online business has not affected most sectors. Research limitations/implications - The future progress of COVID-19 and government containment measures is uncertain, and the full economic consequences will probably continue to emerge after the end of the pandemic. The full extent of the impact on labour will probably not be the first of these. There are obvious advantages in seeking to learn lessons from the early stages of the pandemic but there are also obvious constraints. The full economic consequences will take longer to emerge than the pandemic itself and the full consequences for employment will take longer to be evident than many other economic effects. Practical implications - Both temporary closures and furloughs impose costs that will be borne by firms, workers and government. The effects of COVID-19 on firms differ across sectors. Adverse effects tend to be higher in hospitality, non-essential retail and travel. That many firms lack the capacity to survive further temporary closures of a similar duration to those in the earlier stages emphasises that the support provided in the near future is of critical importance to control employment losses through permanent firm closures. A long-term perspective suggests neither permanent closure nor laying off workers may be the best response to a temporary crisis in demand. A stakeholder model of the firm would often suggest that it is not an optimal for the point of view of workers or the wider economy either. Both imply a preference for labour hoarding. Social implications - The most affected are sectors with a high proportion of female workers and, in consequence, most of the countries in the sample exhibit an early decline of the already lower than average share of women in employment. Originality/value - The data used have been recently released and this is the first analysis using the data to look at the consequence on firms employment decisions during the Pandemic. The case of Southern Europe is much understudied, though one of the most dramatic as to the consequences of the pandemic. From a methodological point of view, the authors use not only traditional regression analysis, but also the matching approach to identify the effect of different policy options on labour demand by firms.

Suggested Citation

  • Allan Webster & Sangeeta Khorana & Francesco Pastore, 2021. "The labour market impact of COVID-19: early evidence for a sample of enterprises from Southern Europe," International Journal of Manpower, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, vol. 43(4), pages 1054-1082, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:ijmpps:ijm-04-2021-0222
    DOI: 10.1108/IJM-04-2021-0222

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    Cited by:

    1. Sangeeta Khorana & Inmaculada Martínez‐Zarzoso & Salamat Ali, 2023. "An anatomy of the impact of COVID‐19 on the global and intra‐Commonwealth trade in goods," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 31(2), pages 550-579, May.
    2. Magdalena Olczyk & Marta Ewa Kuc-Czarnecka, 2021. "Determinants of COVID-19 Impact on the Private Sector: A Multi-Country Analysis Based on Survey Data," Energies, MDPI, vol. 14(14), pages 1-17, July.
    3. Ana Sofia Lopes & Ana Sargento, 2023. "Regional Heterogeneity in the Individual Unemployment Vulnerability After COVID-19 Outset," International Regional Science Review, , vol. 46(5-6), pages 678-700, September.
    4. Aina, Carmen & Brunetti, Irene & Mussida, Chiara & Scicchitano, Sergio, 2021. "Even more discouraged? The NEET generation at the age of COVID-19," GLO Discussion Paper Series 863, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    5. Janzen, Benedikt & Radulescu, Doina, 2022. "Effects of COVID-19 related government response stringency and support policies: Evidence from European firms," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 129-145.

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    More about this item


    Labour hoarding; COVID-19; Labour demand; Matching approach;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J23 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Demand
    • J28 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Safety; Job Satisfaction; Related Public Policy
    • J65 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment Insurance; Severance Pay; Plant Closings


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