Unemployment falls in Germany despite partial coronavirus shutdown

Germany’s unemployment rate dipped in November despite a partial shutdown introduced to halt a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, official data showed.

However, estimates suggest that the number of companies using a short-term salary support programme has risen.

The unadjusted jobless rate, the headline figure in Germany, declined to 5.9% last month from 6% in October, the Federal Labour Agency said.

The number of people registered as unemployed was just below 2.7 million, 61,000 fewer than the previous month but 519,000 more than a year earlier.

In seasonally adjusted terms, the jobless rate slipped to 6.1% from 6.2%.

Rises in unemployment in Germany, which has Europe’s biggest economy, and elsewhere on the continent have been moderate by international standards.

That is because employers are making heavy use of salary support programmes, often referred to as furlough schemes, which allow them to keep employees on the payroll while they await better times.

In Germany, the labour agency pays at least 60% of the salary of employees who are on reduced or zero hours.

Cranes with Christmas decoration stand next to the European Central Bank, left, in Frankfurt, Germany (Michael Probst/AP)
Cranes with Christmas decoration stand next to the European Central Bank, left, in Frankfurt, Germany (Michael Probst/AP)

Germany embarked on November 2 on a partial shutdown that saw restaurants closed for all but takeout and delivery, among with bars, leisure and sports facilities.

Hotels are not allowed to accommodate people on tourist trips.

Non-essential shops remain open.

The shutdown was extended last week until at least December 20 because new infections in Germany have stabilised but not decreased.

The labour agency said Tuesday that “significantly more” people were registered for the German salary support programme in November than in the previous months.

The Ifo economic think tank, citing a survey of some 7,000 companies, said that the proportion of firms using the salary support programme rose in November for the first time in months, to 28% from 24.8% in October.

The labour agency said it paid support for 2.22 million people in September, the most recent month for which it has figures.

That was down from 2.55 million in August and nearly six million in April, when the numbers peaked.

In September last year, only 75,000 people were registered for the programme, which has been in place for years.

Germany has 83 million residents.