On the path to the top league: sustaining Croatia’s convergence

By Tim Bulman, OECD Economics Department

Croatia, with a population of four million and independent as of three decades ago out-performs in many fields. The successes of its sports teams and of its leading athletes, and the beauty of its natural landscapes and the cities and islands along its sparkling coastline are well known. It is now aiming to achieve similar renown for its economy and quality of life.

An ambitious programme of reforms and investments over the past decade are bearing fruit and Croatia is advancing up the league tables. The economy is expanding and diversifying, generating jobs and raising incomes, and making poverty increasingly rare. The country navigated the COVID-19 and energy price shocks well, achieving robust rebounds in output and employment. The quality of the environment and of public services has improved, contributing to a markedly more optimistic outlook among younger generations. The country is also becoming increasingly attractive to immigrants. Croatia’s integration into the euro- and Schengen areas at the start of 2023 is recognition of these changes and strengthens the base for continued progress.

Indeed, strong progress will need to continue if Croatia’s is to move to the top of the league tables. For future generations to enjoy the incomes of the average OECD country, the economy will need to expand by 3% annually on average for the next thirty years, at the same time as it addresses the twin challenges of climate change and population ageing. The 2023 Economic Survey of Croatia, the first prepared by the OECD and which is being launched in the context of Croatia’s accession process to the OECD, identifies three groups of policy actions that can enable Croatia to build its form.

Robust growth will need to continue for Croatia to converge with OECD incomes

GDP per capita, 2015 prices and PPPs, thousand USD                                  

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Note: ‘Peers’ is the unweighted average of Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.
Source: OECD Annual National Accounts (database).

Ensure public finances and prudential supervision support sustainable growth

Inflation is abating only gradually from its surge in 2022, when it peaked at 13.0% year-on-year in November, the highest rate since the 2000s. The labour market is tight, and employers report growing recruitment challenges. Meanwhile integration into the euro- and Schengen-areas are adding to demand from exports and investment, while banks have increased lending capacity. The government plans to shift the budget from a modest surplus in 2022 to a small deficit in 2023 and a larger deficit in 2024, further adding to demand pressures.

Avoiding fiscal stimulus while inflation remains high would ensure fiscal policy is counter-cyclical, and help inflation in Croatia return to the level of its peers. Vigilantly monitoring banks’ new lending can support macroeconomic stability.

Consumer prices are still rising faster than in the euro area

Consumer price inflation, year-on-year

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Note: ‘Peers’ is the unweighted average of Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.
Source: OECD Price Statistics database.

Support a more dynamic business environment where productive firms can grow

Croatia has a lively start-up scene, and many new firms are relatively productive. But they grow less than in other countries. Instead, entrenched, lower-productivity firms dominate much of the business sector. Many firms’ lagging productivity reflects low investment, especially foreign direct investment that brings new technologies, and investment in digitalisation and more innovative management.

Firms identify the time and resources spent on complying with regulations as a major constraint. Continuing to review, streamline and simplify regulations, and closely monitoring whether regulatory burdens are indeed diminishing can ensure progress.

In practice, businesses report that complying with regulations is burdensome

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Many legal disputes remain slow to resolve, despite some recent gains, and many businesses report a lack of confidence in the legal system. Efforts to develop alternative dispute resolution, digitalise legal processes and better communicate legal decisions can help.

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) continue to play an over-sized role in Croatia’s economy, but many under-perform in how well they use their assets and workers and in the quality of the goods and services they deliver. Making SOE governance, arms-length from the government and more transparent about performance and returns can help. Listing state-owned enterprises where there is not a core justification for government ownership can also boost the firms’ performance and the dynamism of Croatia’s economy.

Strengthen skills and activate those out of the workforce to raise incomes and inclusiveness

Croatia’s growing and increasingly diverse economy requires ever higher levels of workforce skills. Many workers have solid intermediate skills, but investors report difficulties hiring higher-level skills. A big push to improve adult education can help. The strong take-up of a new adult education voucher scheme demonstrates that demand exists for a well-designed system, i.e. one that identifies workers’ skill needs, adapts to their schedules and circumstances, and is affordable.  Better connecting school and vocational education with employers’ current and future needs would better prepare students for a dynamic economy.

Addressing barriers to adult education can raise participation

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Alongside raising skills, a relatively large share of Croatia’s younger and older adults is not in the labour force. These people are among those most at risk of poverty. Many have few skills and little experience of working formally. Tailored activation services that develop skills and offer work experience can enable them to move into lasting jobs. Lagging areas with few opportunities are likely to need extra policy attention. Assisting older adults stay in work longer would help ensure they can enjoy adequate incomes and quality of life in retirement.

Croatia’s reform and investment programme reflects its ambitions. Full implementing these efforts will take ongoing effort and energy. The benefits of graduating to the top league will be well worth the effort.

Inflation factors: how returns to capital and labour have contributed to domestic inflation pressures

By Geoff Barnard and Patrice Ollivaud, OECD Economics Department

With the upsurge in inflation in 2021-22 in many countries creating a cost-of-living crisis, there has been much interest in whether this is mainly attributable to firms securing higher profits, to higher wages (pushing up unit labour costs), or to some combination of the two (OECD, 2023).

The data needed to estimate the impact of changes in unit profits, unit labour costs and unit taxes on consumer price indices are not generally available directly, although attempts to get around this constraint have been made for some countries (e.g. Diev et al. (2019), for core CPI inflation, Haskel (2023) for headline CPI inflation and Hansen et al. (2023) for the consumption deflator). The breakdown can, however, be directly calculated for GDP inflation (i.e. changes in the GDP deflator). This is not the same as consumer price inflation, as the composition of household consumption differs from that of domestic output. Many OECD economies are net importers of fossil fuels and food, and energy and food prices increased dramatically in 2021-22. In these countries, consumer prices increased by much more than the GDP deflator over that period. Conversely, for oil and gas exporters, the prices of goods produced domestically and then exported rose rapidly, pushing GDP inflation above headline consumer price inflation. A decomposition of GDP inflation thus gives only a partial picture of the contribution of profits and labour costs to headline consumer price inflation. Nevertheless, GDP inflation is an indicator of domestically generated inflation, and can shed light on the extent to which headline inflation is domestically generated or imported.

The decomposition of GDP inflation since 2019 for three commodity-exporting OECD economies (Australia, Canada and the United States) and six commodity importers is shown in Figure 1. As expected, the commodity exporters experienced higher GDP inflation over 2021-22 than the commodity importers. A number of facts emerge from the decomposition exercise:

  • In the United States and Canada, the contribution from unit profits widened during most of 2021-22 as GDP inflation was rising but has fallen back as GDP inflation waned in late 2022 and the beginning of 2023. In Canada the contribution of unit profits turned negative in Q1 2023.
  • For most of the large European economies, by contrast, GDP inflation was still rising into 2023, and the contribution of unit profits also increased in Q1 2023.
  • The contribution from unit labour costs has recently risen in Australia, the euro area (including France, Germany and Italy) and the United Kingdom, whereas it was moderating in the United States and Canada in the first part of 2023.
  • While it is usually stable and small, the contribution from unit taxes was particularly volatile following the COVID-19 shock, reflecting pandemic-related subsidies that have subsequently been phased out and changes in the composition of expenditure, particularly household consumption.

Figure 1. The contribution to inflation from both unit profits and unit labour costs has increased recently in many countries

Contribution to year-on-year GDP inflation

Note: A small statistical discrepancy between the sum of the components and the GDP deflator is not shown. Unit taxes correspond to taxes on production net of subsidies per unit of real GDP; unit profits to gross operating surplus per unit of real GDP; and unit labour costs to compensation of employees per unit of real GDP. The published gross operating surplus data include mixed income, which incorporates the income of the self-employed. The calculations in this figure adjust the published gross operating surplus data by allocating part of self-employment incomes to unit labour costs, based on the assumption that the self-employed receive on average the same compensation per head as employees. For the euro area, the data necessary for calculating the contribution of unit profits, unit labour costs and unit net taxes to GDP inflation were not yet in the OECD Quarterly National Accounts database when this post was written.

Source: OECD Economic Outlook 113 database; OECD Quarterly National Accounts database; and OECD calculations.

The combination of rising unit labour costs and rising unit profits seen in 2021-22 for many economies is relatively unusual. Over the two decades prior to the pandemic, there was typically a negative relationship between unit profits and unit labour costs, with increases in one being partially absorbed by falls in the other. This relationship has weakened of late, with the median correlation amongst 17 OECD countries shrinking from -0.6 over the period 2000-19 (using quarterly data) to -0.2 during 2021-22, similar to the value for the decade 1971-81, another period characterised by large energy and food price shocks. This suggests that a period of rising input cost inflation may be conducive to unit profits and unit labour costs rising together, at least in nominal terms.

The decomposition of GDP inflation does not allow definitive conclusions to be drawn about firms’ profit margins or changes in market power, which have been the focus of much of the debate about what has driven the rise in inflation. An increase in unit profits (profits per unit of value added) does not necessarily entail higher profit margins (profits as a proportion of sales) as the increase of input costs (including intermediate consumption) can result in profits per unit of value-added moving differently to profits on gross sales (Colonna et al., 2023). And an economy-wide increase in unit profits does not provide any information about how that increase is distributed across sectors or firms.[1]

The evolution of the share of profits in GDP does, however, offer some indirect evidence that aggregate profitability has risen over the past few years. In most advanced economies, the ratio of the gross operating surplus to GDP in 2022 was higher than in 2019 (Figure 2), implying that unit profits rose faster than GDP inflation over this period.

Figure 2. The share of profits in GDP increased in most countries between 2019 and 2022

Gross operating surplus

Note: The calculations in this figure adjust the published gross operating surplus data by removing the part of self-employment incomes that is estimated to reflect labour compensation rather than profits. This is done using the assumption that the self-employed receive on average the same labour compensation per head as employees.

Source: OECD Economic Outlook 113 database; OECD Quarterly National Accounts database; and OECD calculations.

For most OECD economies, projections in the June 2023 Economic Outlook imply that the qualitative pattern that characterised the upsurge in inflation in 2021-22 will be reversed over the next 18 months: real wages will begin to recover – they are projected to be higher in the final quarter of 2024 than in the corresponding quarter of 2022 in all the G7 economies – and labour’s share of national income will rise even as inflation falls back: both headline and core inflation are expected to ease in 2024 in all G7 economies. Implicitly, part of the increase in labour income is being met from profits, with the non-labour share of national income declining.


Diev, P., Y. Kalantzis and A. Lalliard (2019), “Why Have Strong Wage Dynamics Not Pushed Up Inflation in the Euro Area?”, Bulletin de la Banque de France, 225/6, September-October.

Hansen, N., F. Toscani and J. Zhou (2023), “Euro Area Inflation after the Pandemic and Energy Shock: Import Prices, Profits and Wages”, IMF Working Papers, No. 2023/131.

Haskel J. (2023), “What’s Driving Inflation: Wages, Profits, or Energy Prices?”, Bank of England, Speech given at Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington DC, 25 May.

OECD (2023), OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2023 Issue 1, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[1] A subsequent ECOSCOPE post will discuss evidence on the sectoral breakdown of unit profit contributions to GDP inflation.

Tackling tightness in the Dutch labour market

Labour-saving innovation alone is unlikely to reduce overall labour demand. To lift supply, childcare, immigration, and adult training need an overhaul.

By Daniela Glocker and Nicolas Gonne, OECD Economics Department

The Netherlands has a very strong labour market. The employment rate is one of the highest in the OECD, while unemployment is low. Workers are paid well on average and experience significantly less job strain than in many other OECD countries. This contributes to making the Netherlands a country with a high reported life satisfaction.

But the Dutch labour market is also very tight. Job openings are plenty and available workers are scarce (Figure 1). Pervasive labour shortages across occupations and regions prevent businesses from operating at their desired production level. Shortages are reported in many OECD countries, reflecting the unprecedented speed of the post-pandemic recovery. However, labour market tightness is structural in the Netherlands: the number of people available for work, either unemployed or inactive, has declined steadily in recent years.

Figure 1. Dutch labour market tightness predates the pandemic

Labour market tightness
vacancies per 100 unemployed

Note: OECD (resp. EA17) average based on 23 (resp. 17) countries for which data are available.
Source: OECD Labour Market Statistics (database); Eurostat Job Vacancy Statistics.

Lifting labour supply to tackle tightness is urgent in the Netherlands: not only do enduring shortages generate wage inflation, but they also hold back the green and digital transitions, weighing on potential growth. In complement to raising productivity, the latest Economic Survey of the Netherlands identifies areas for policy reform that together have the potential to increase labour supply.

Strengthening incentives to work full time

More than a third of employees work fewer than 30 hours per week in the Netherlands, by far the highest incidence of part-time work in the OECD, with a particularly unequal distribution between genders. The system of taxes and benefits implicitly promotes the “one-and-a-half earner model” (Figure 2, Left), whereby one partner (often a man) works full-time and the second earner (often a woman) works relatively few hours. Expensive or unavailable childcare weighs on incentives to work more (Figure 2, Right), as looking after a child is the main reason for part-time employment in the Netherlands.

Figure 2. Stronger incentives on moving to full-time employment and more affordable childcare would increase labour supply

Note: LHS refers to second earners with two children. (more details). Source: OECD Benefits, Taxes and Wages (database); OECD Social and Welfare Statistics (database).

Reducing work disincentives arising from childcare, school hours, and leave arrangements is a necessary complement to the steady reduction in the effective tax rate on moving to full-time employment. The planned reform to make childcare free for all working parents is expected to worsen staff shortages in childcare facilities, raising doubts about feasibility. Phasing in the reform gradually, monitoring access and evaluating the repeal of the link between hours worked and the amount of the childcare support would help.

Realising the potential of migration

While labour market participation overall is high, the gap between the native-born and the foreign-born is the largest in the OECD (Figure 3), especially for migrants from outside of the European Union. Most highly educated foreign-born work in jobs that require a lower level of formal education than what they hold or are not in employment. Moreover, the immigration system is not responsive to labour market needs, and no migration scheme exists for medium-skill workers, despite their importance for the green transition.

Figure 3. Better migrant integration could attenuate labour shortages in some occupations

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Source: OECD Migration Statistics (database).

Streamlining and accelerating the processes of recognition and validation of qualifications acquired abroad for shortage skills would improve employment outcomes for underemployed groups and partially address labour shortages. Repealing labour market tests, whereby employers are required to search for applicants from the Netherlands or other EU countries before turning to non-EU migrants, would increase supply for the middle-skill segment of the labour market and for occupations related to the low-carbon transition.

Promoting a culture of lifelong learning

Training needs are important in the Netherlands, given the massive number of new jobs that will be necessary for the low-carbon transition and the continued digitalisation of the economy. Yet, the country only allocates a relatively little share of active labour market policy spending to training (Figure 3). In a first approximation, a threefold increase in public spending on training is necessary to achieve the required reskilling and upskilling. Moreover, concerns have surfaced regarding the quality and relevance of some trainings subsidised under the recently discontinued individual learning scheme STAP.

Figure 4. Higher spending on quality public training would promote growth in expanding industries

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Source: OECD Statistics on Labour Market Programmes (database).

Major scaling-up and stronger incentives for co-financing by employers are needed to deliver on the stated objective of promoting a new culture of lifelong learning. Focusing expenditure on adult learning related to occupations where shortages are the most pressing would reduce the overall fiscal cost and better channel labour towards the tightest segments of the labour market. More emphasis should be placed on ensuring that providers maintain training quality, including renewing providers’ accreditation regularly, assessing the outcomes of education activities, and ensuring that the ensuing information is transparent and publicly available.


Borowiecki M., J. Pareliussen and D. Glocker (2021), “Chasing the frontier: Digitalisation for stronger productivity in the Netherlands”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1680, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/e800ee1d-en

Abendschein M., O. Causa, N. Luu, E. Soldani and C. Soriolo (2022), “The post-COVID-19 rise in labour shortages”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1721, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/e60c2d1c-en.

Gonne N. (2023), “Lifting labour supply to tackle tightness in the Netherlands”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris, forthcoming.

Employment in Sweden: aiming high

by Hyunjeong Hwang, OECD Economics Department

Cover of the economic survey of Sweden 2023

Sweden has a very high labour force participation rate and one of the highest employment rates in the OECD, but cannot afford to be complacent. Maintaining high employment is a prerequisite for the sustainability of the Swedish welfare state and to counter the ageing-related contraction of the labour force and its negative fiscal impacts. The 2023 OECD Economic Survey of Sweden delves into some challenges holding back labour supply and proposes measures to make the Swedish labour market stronger, more inclusive, and conducive to sustained economic growth.

Long-term unemployment, notably among the foreign-born, remains a significant challenge. With lower educational attainment and lower Swedish language skills than natives, foreign-born people may struggle to get a job in a labour market characterised by a compressed wage distribution that demands high skills and productivity. Additionally, foreign-born women often face strong gender and family norms. Re-skilling and activation policies are key for these groups. A recent reform of the Public Employment Service, introducing a purchaser-provider model with outcome-based payments for employment services could help, but needs to be carefully monitored and calibrated to align providers’ incentives with the objectives of the reform and to secure sufficient competition. Carefully reviewing social assistance with the aim to strengthen work incentives while ensuring decent living standards for people in need could also help.

Taxes on work are high, particularly among above-average income earners in Sweden (Figure 1). The top personal income tax rate is among the highest in the OECD and it applies from a low threshold. As a result, a relatively large share of taxpayers faces the top marginal tax rate. Meanwhile, tax rates on dividends and capital gains are relatively low. The large difference between taxes on labour income and capital income creates incentives for high-wage earners to reclassify their income as capital income in order to minimise their tax obligations. Furthermore, housing taxation is both low and regressive. Shifting taxation away from labour and towards property and capital income would thus help create a more balanced and equitable tax structure, promoting labour supply and inclusive growth while preserving fiscal sustainability.

Lengthening working lives as life expectancy increases is essential to strengthen public finances and to ensure sufficient pension income. Reforms in the 1990s made Sweden’s pension system the envy of countries around the world, with in-built sustainability and incentives to lengthen working lives, and many policies have been put in place since to extend working lives. However, recent reforms to boost basic pensions and to introduce a new tax-funded income pension supplement go in the direction of reducing incentives to remain in work for many older workers and weaken the long-term sustainability of the system. The stated purpose of these changes was “to ensure a reasonable standard of living for pensioners who receive a low level of earnings-related pensions”. However, on average, Swedish pensioners are relatively well-off compared internationally and compared to younger generations in Sweden. Sweden should therefore change direction by holding back the uprating of tax-funded pensions for some time to come.

Relaxing strict rent controls, which would improve labour mobility and increase the supply of rental dwellings, should be considered. Waiting times for rental housing can stretch from years to decades in major cities in Sweden, perpetuating the scarcity of rental options. This pushes those with limited queuing time and limited means to buy housing, particularly youth and immigrants, into overcrowded housing, sublet or black markets with significantly higher rents. Greater flexibility in rental housing would facilitate the matching of skills with job vacancies and boost productivity by more efficiently allocating talent to where it is most needed.

Further reading:          

OECD Economic Survey of Sweden (2023), OECD Economic Surveys: Sweden 2023, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Chile: How can growth be made more inclusive?

By Jens Matthias Arnold and Paula Garda, OECD Economics Department

Chile’s economy has been a poster-child of Latin America for a long time. As the new Economic Survey for Chile highlights, its solid institutions have delivered macroeconomic stability and rising living standards. Per-capita incomes have more than doubled since the 1990s and are among the highest in the region. But despite all this remarkable progress, cracks have emerged on the surface. In October 2019, widespread social unrest paralysed the country and revealed deep-rooted discontent with inequalities of economic conditions and opportunities.

After the social unrest, the Covid-19 pandemic took a steep toll on lives and livelihoods, and led to the sharpest contraction of economic incomes in 40 years. In 2021, the economy recovered swiftly on the back of exceptionally strong policy support, and eventually overheated significantly, as domestic demand pushed inflation well above target. Fiscal policy is rightly consolidating this year, including a strong reduction of public expenditure. The Russian aggression on Ukraine and global supply shortages in 2022 exacerbated inflationary pressures, with rising food and energy prices pounding hard on many families as inflation rose above 14%. Monetary policy reacted swiftly and forcefully, but the monetary policy stance will have to remain restrictive for some time to bring inflation back to the target and to firmly re-anchor inflation expectations.

In the face of these extraordinary shocks, Chile’s institutions have been resilient and helped to avert worse outcomes. The social unrest of 2019 eventually gave rise to an orderly and democratic process of rewriting the country’s constitution. In a national referendum, a majority of Chileans voted in favour of this step. A first new draft constitution was rejected in a second national referendum in September 2022, but another process for drafting a new constitution is being discussed.

Significant underlying growth and inequality challenges will have to be addressed over the next years. A long-standing process of income convergence to advanced economies has gone into reverse since 2014 (Figure 1). Productivity has been stagnant or even decreasing, and boosting it has now become a key priority. Investment in new technologies has been weak, and important parts of the economy could benefit from stronger competitive forces, as cumbersome regulations hold back new firm entry and investment.

Figure 1. Income convergence has reversed

Source: OECD, Productivity database; World Bank, WDI.

Besides boosting the engines of income growth, pressing social needs will require a growing attention to how incomes and opportunities are distributed. The quality of public education and health services needs to be improved to narrow the gap vis-à-vis private institutions. The pandemic has also highlighted significant gaps in social protection, particularly for the most vulnerable households. Ensuring some basic social protection coverage for formal and informal workers alike, while simultaneously reducing the cost of formal employment, is a key challenge. Only by addressing social protection and informality simultaneously will Chile be able to break the vicious circle where informal workers not entitled to most social protection benefits while the labour charges that finance these benefits raise the costs of creating formal jobs.

Few people have adequate old-age pensions, owing to low contributions and contribution gaps due to informal employment. Pension replacement rates were already low before the pandemic, but many pension accounts are now depleted following three rounds of extraordinary withdrawals during the crisis. A recently established universal basic pension is a key milestone: it will significantly improve pension benefits, particularly for many low-income earners. But future pension reforms should pay particular attention to formalisation incentives, while raising pension replacement rates. Income-support programmes for vulnerable households are highly fragmented, and unifying social assistance programmes into a single cash benefit scheme would allow increasing coverage and benefits.

Education is key for reducing inequalities and raising productivity at the same time. Learning outcomes remain well below the OECD average and pandemic-related school closures have exacerbated these longstanding challenges, as fewer students from vulnerable backgrounds used digital tools to remain connected. Expanding access to quality early childhood education would bridge early and often decisive gaps in cognitive and social progress and allow more women to work. Working conditions for teachers fall short of OECD average standards, with lower pay and longer working hours.

The small size of Chile’s public sector limits its ability to provide better public services and opportunities for all, and to reduce inequalities. Tax revenues of only 21% of GDP are insufficient to meet rising social demands while preserving necessary public investment in infrastructure, education and health (Figure 2). Personal income taxes, which only 20% of Chileans pay, are one explanation behind this low tax collection. Raising public revenues by several percentage points of GDP, as currently planned by the authorities, is ambitious but clearly within reach through a comprehensive tax reform.

Figure 2. Tax revenues are low

Note: LAC is a simple average of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru.
Source: OECD, Global tax revenue database.

As Chile embarks on this path of reforms, many decisions are now being taken that are likely to shape the future of its society and economy for years to come. These reforms are an excellent opportunity not only for raising future incomes, but also for making future growth more inclusive and providing better opportunities for all Chileans, as discussed in the 2022 OECD Economic Survey of Chile.


OECD (2022), OECD Economic Surveys: Chile 2022, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/311ec37e-en.

Improving economic opportunities for all in Belgium

By Nicolas Gonne and Müge Adalet McGowan, OECD Economics Department.

Belgium has low income inequality overall, thanks to extensive tax and transfer policies and strong institutionalised social dialogue. However, as in other OECD countries, there is scope to improve equality of opportunities. Indeed, Belgium’s good overall performance regarding income distribution hides an unequal access to life chances, with considerable disparities according to, notably, parental background and country of origin.

Improving economic opportunities for all in Belgium would promote well-being and potential growth by better allocating talents, but also help alleviate fiscal sustainability challenges by reducing the need for redistribution. Based on new OECD evidence from survey microdata (Périlleux et al., forthcoming), the latest Economic Survey of Belgium identifies three key barriers to equal opportunities: low labour market transitions, inequity in compulsory education and a lack of affordable housing. The Survey discusses policies that can tackle these barriers, with a particular focus on the situation of vulnerable groups, such as the low-skilled, people with a migrant background and single mothers. As competencies concerning the labour market, education and housing spread across different levels of government, some recommendations are more relevant to specific regions and communities according to their policy needs and priorities.

Improving the labour market outcomes of vulnerable groups

Important reforms have contributed to increasing the participation of low wage earners and older workers in Belgium. Yet, employment gaps remain particularly large for disadvantaged groups, such as non-EU migrants, the low educated and people with disabilities (Figure 1), in part reflecting weak digital skills and low participation in training. Lifelong learning programmes and actors involved should be streamlined and vulnerable groups prioritised for face-to-face career guidance, as complexity is particularly detrimental to their participation.

Figure 1. Employment gaps are particularly large for disadvantaged groups

Note: Employment gap defined as the difference between the employment rate of prime-age men (aged 25-54) and that of the group, expressed as a percentage of the employment rate of prime-age men (more details).
Source: OECD calculations based on OECD Employment database, OECD International Migration database, OECD Education Database and OECD Family database.

The planned introduction of the individual training account, as recommended in the previous Economic Survey of Belgium, is a major step in the direction of increasing lifelong learning efficiency and inclusiveness, but successful implementation requires the provision of high quality training in areas of skill needs and coordination across regions. Moreover, the use of statistical profiling tools for delivering employment services to target vulnerable groups should be expanded. As low employment rates also reflect gaps in individual support for sickness and disability beneficiaries, individual placement and support programmes should be scaled up further, conditional on their evaluation. Finally, introducing in-work benefits for low-wage workers with children would strengthen their work incentives, as low-income single parents and second earners with children face among the highest participation tax rates in the OECD.

Enhancing equal opportunities in compulsory education

Belgian students’ overall academic performance is at par with peer countries. However, student achievement strongly depends on parental background (Figure 2), leading to large disparities across schools and programmes due to a cumulative process of socio-economic self-sorting and academic selection. Schools are incentivised to diversify their student intake, but not to achieve good educational outcomes for weaker students. Reliable performance indicators and other data on successful study progression should be used to inform school funding based on educational improvements made with disadvantaged students. Moreover, schools should be further encouraged to organise programmes across the general and vocational tracks and to enable transfers between them, as low mobility between tracks reduces the prospects of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Finally, stronger incentives and training for new teachers can reduce attrition and attract teachers to schools with a high concentration of disadvantaged pupils, through strengthening induction programmes and rewarding teaching in disadvantaged schools with financial incentives or improved and stable career prospects.

Figure 2. Student achievement strongly depends on parental background

Note: OECD calculations based on regressions of PISA test scores in reading on the index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS).
Source: OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Promoting affordability and quality on the housing market

In Belgium, housing conditions overall are among the best in the OECD according to the OECD Better Life Index. However, access to affordable housing has become increasingly challenging for low-income households, who bear a high burden from housing costs (Figure 3). The supply of social housing is too low, especially in large cities, such as Brussels, and price differentials with the private housing market hinder moves, thereby distorting work incentives. The regions should expand rental allowances to cover low-income private market tenants, while proceeding to increase the social housing stock.

Figure 3. Low-income households bear a high burden from housing costs

Note: Households on the private rental market; low-income households belong to the bottom income quintile; overburden is more than 40% of disposable income on total housing costs (more details).
Source: OECD Affordable Housing database.


Adalet McGowan, M.  and N. Gonne (2022), “Addressing medium-term fiscal challenges to address future shocks in Belgium”, Ecoscope, Blog posted on 14 June 2022.

Gonne N. (2022), “Improving economic opportunities for all in Belgium”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1722, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2022), OECD Economic Surveys: Belgium 2022, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/01c0a8f0-en.

OECD (2020), OECD Economic Surveys: Belgium 2020, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/1327040c-en.

Périlleux, G., N. Gonne, S. Cassimon and M. Adalet McGowan (forthcoming), “Upward income mobility and vulnerable households in Belgium: Evidence from survey microdata”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris.

The Slovak labour market during the pandemic – who is at risk and how to protect all workers?

by Gabriel Machlica, OECD Economics Department

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the most severe economic recession since World War II, causing enormous damage to people’s health, jobs and well-being. The Slovak economy is expected to decline by more than 11% in 2020 if a second wave of infections requiring renewed lockdowns hits before the end of this year (OECD, 2020a). The pandemic could lead to lasting demand changes and structural shifts in the economy. Real per capita income will fall to the level of 2015, implying a loss of five years of income growth. The unemployment rate will reach almost 10% this year. Around 100 thousand people could lose their jobs, with vulnerable workers at risk to bear the brunt of the crisis. In Slovakia, these high-risk groups include (i) the non-standard workers, particularly the self-employed and the temporary workers, (ii) the marginalised Roma community and (iii) young people. Well-targeted labour market activation policies should be coupled with a strong social safety net, to mitigate the inevitable adjustment costs of moving towards new jobs.

Who is at risk?

Non-standard workers are vulnerable to the loss of income as a result of the widespread shutdown. Since March, approximately 26% to 40% of Slovak workers have been directly affected by containment measures (NBS, 2020; OECD, 2020c). The most affected sectors were tourism and those services involving contact between consumers and service providers. In this respect, non-standard workers are particularly vulnerable, as they have less protection, they are less likely to receive any form of income support during out-of-work periods than standard employees, and when they do receive benefits they are often significantly less generous than for standard employees (OECD, 2019a).

In Slovakia, non-standard workers accounted for one third of workers directly affected by containment measures, most of them self-employed (Figure 1). Over the last decade, the favourable tax treatment of self-employed workers led to an increase in the number of regular employment contracts disguised as self-employment contracts (Remeta et al, 2015). The share of own account self-employed workers who earn most of their income from just one client is the highest in the OECD (OECD, 2019a). The other group at high risk are temporary workers, particularly the workers with contracts of agreement for work performed outside an employment relationship, so-called ‘work agreements’. They have been significantly affected by the initial impact of the crisis (IFP, 2020). These groups are particularly vulnerable as their dismissal is less costly for employers and leaves them with less protection compared to standard workers.

Source: OECD (2020), “Issue Note 4: Distributional risks associated with non-standard work: Stylised facts and policy considerations”, in Issues notes on macroeconomic and structural policy issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/7f54e942-en.

The Roma community is highly vulnerable to economic shocks. Roma account for almost one-tenth of the population in the Slovak Republic. Their labour market outcomes are much weaker compared to the general population, but have been considerably improving in the last couple of years (Machlica et al. 2019). However, they remain at particular risk during a downturn as they are mostly low-skilled and work in seasonal, temporary jobs which are much more affected by the economic cycle. Indeed, their employment reacts much more strongly to the economic cycle (Figure 2). In addition, many Roma work in the informal economy, which increases their income insecurity, as they are not entitled to unemployment benefits when they are out of work (Gatti et. al, 2016). All these factors place Roma at a higher risk of falling into poverty when faced with a health or employment shock. This is a significant concern as the vast majority of Roma have been at risk of poverty even before the crisis and almost one-third was living in households where at least one person went to bed hungry in the past month (Machlica et al. 2019).

The crisis can significantly worsen the labour market prospects of youth as the initial labour market experience can have a profound influence on later working life. This year’s graduates will leave schools and universities with poorer chances of finding employment or work experience. This is a particular concern because of scarring effects that may lead to long-lasting negative labour market outcomes (Bell and Blanchflower, 2011; Helbling and Sacchi, 2014). Young people indeed appear most severely affected by the crisis as they generally work in less secure jobs, and are overrepresented among workers in hard-hit industries such as accommodation and food services (OECD, 2020b).

Protecting all workers

The Slovak government has rightly put in place a number of measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis, including incentives to preserve existing jobs, but the take up was much lower than in other OECD countries (Figure 3). These job retention schemes can help limit increases in unemployment and promote a quicker labour market recovery by reducing costs of matching employers to employees. However, this support should not be indefinite as it hampers the necessary reallocation of workers to new jobs (OECD, 2020a). Consumers may emerge from lockdown with new spending habits requiring new jobs, and the long-term preservation of existing jobs may not be efficient. The longer the recovery from the crisis takes, the more should the policy focus shift from “protecting jobs” towards “protecting workers”, providing them with expanded unemployment insurance and an effective activation framework to improve their employability. Strong activation policies can help mitigate some of the inevitable adjustment costs of moving towards new jobs.

Vulnerable groups require special attention. First, the government should ensure adequate social safety nets to avoid the risk of some groups falling through the cracks of existing social protection system as outlined in a recent OECD report (OECD, 2020d) In the medium term, there is a need to enforce a clear distinction between self-employed and employee status. Many OECD countries are tackling false self-employment by reducing incentives for firms and workers to misclassify employment relationships, putting in place tests and criteria for assessing employment relationships and increasing the capacity of labour inspectorates to monitor and detect breaches (OECD, 2019a).

A strong social safety net should be coupled with an extensive activation framework, which in the case of the Roma community should reflect their specific constraints such as poor health, housing and transport issues, indebtedness or limited availability of childcare. Tailored measures should offer a mix of training, counselling and mentoring programmes. Collaborating and outsourcing some of these services to non-governmental providers with a good track record of high-quality support for the Roma can help ease capacity constraints of the Public Employment Services. The OECD report on the social integration of the Roma in Slovakia suggests that more coordinated interventions in different policy areas are needed to avoid further exclusion of the Roma, as interventions in one area will not work without others (Machlica et al. 2019). For the young unemployed, training complemented by subsidies to private employers offering on-the-job training can improve skills and employability (OECD, 2019b). For example, Australia and Denmark as part of its economic response to COVID-19 have introduced wage subsidies to help companies maintain or expand their apprenticeship and in-firm training programmes (OECD, 2020b).


Bednarik, M., S. Hidas and G. Machlica (2019), “Enhancing the social integration of Roma in Slovak Republic”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1551, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/197eb309-en.

Bell, D. and D. Blanchflower (2011), “Young people and the Great Recession.” Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Vol. 27/2, pp. 241-267

Gatti , R., S. Karacsony, I. Sandor, K. Anan, C. Ferré and C. de Paz Nieves (2016), Being Fair, Faring Better, Promoting Equality of Opportunity for Marginalized Roma, World Bank, Washington, DC

Helbling, L. and S. Sacchi (2014), “Scarring effects of early unemployment among young workers with vocational credentials in Switzerland”, Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training, Vol.6/12, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40461-014-0012-2.

IFP (2020), “Trh práce v karanténe“ Komentár 2020/10, Institute of Finacial Policy, Ministry of Finance of the Slovak Republic, 2020

NBS (2020), “Ekonomické dôsledky uzavretia odvetví s intenzívnym osobným kontaktom”, Analytický komentár č. 81, 4. mája 2020,   https://www.nbs.sk/_img/Documents/_komentare/AnalytickeKomentare/2020/AK81_Koronavirus_Obmedzenia_odvetvi_s_intenzivnym_kontaktom.pdf

OECD (2020a), OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2020 Issue 1, https://doi.org/10.1787/0d1d1e2e-en.

OECD (2020b), OECD Employment Outlook 2020: Worker Security and the COVID-19 Crisis, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/1686c758-en.

OECD (2020c), “Distributional risks associated with non-standard work: Stylised facts and policy considerations”  Chapter  English 03 Jul 2020  OECD  in OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2020 Issue 1

OECD (2020d), “Supporting livelihoods during the COVID-19 crisis: Closing the gaps in safety nets”  OECD Publishing, Paris,http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/supporting-livelihoods-during-the-covid-19-crisis-closing-the-gaps-in-safety-nets-17cbb92d/

OECD (2019a), OECD Employment Outlook 2019: The Future of Work, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9ee00155-en.

OECD (2019b), OECD Economic Surveys: Slovak Republic 2019, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-svk-2019-en.

Remeta, J., et al. (2015), “Moving Beyond the Flat Tax – Tax Policy Reform in the Slovak Republic”, OECD Taxation Working Papers, No. 22, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/5js4rtzr3ws2-en.

Reviving Italy’s Growth

by Mauro Pisu and Tim Bulman, Italy Desk, OECD Economics Department

In Curno, 50 km north east of Milan, is the headquarters of Brembo, the Italian company supplying brakes for Teslas and Ferraris as well as for mass market cars and motorcycles. Founded in 1961, its 255 employees generate over USD 3 billion of revenue from production facilities across 15 countries.

1500 km away,
in Sicily’s south-east, Gaetana Jacono runs the Valle dell’Acate winery. She is
bringing to six generations of wine making tradition new production
technologies and distribution approaches that are developing exports to large
new markets.

Enterprises like Brembo and Valle dell’Acate have helped
Italy in recent years gradually recover from its extended recession. These are
mostly medium sized enterprises that are highly productive and have grown
activity and created jobs though investment and exports, supported by
government policies such as the Industry 4.0 programme or labour market and
education reforms.

But Italy’s recovery stalled in late 2018, before
Italy could reverse the deep losses in incomes and well-being suffered during
the extended recession. Overall, income per capita today is near its level in
2000, and economy-wide productivity has been stagnant. This lack of progress
has seen poverty rates rise, especially among the young and families. The
OECD’s latest projections are for GDP to contract by 0.2% in 2019 and to expand
by 0.5% in 2020.

What will it take to restart and extend Italy’s

A clear multi-year reform programme to boost employment and productivity, while reducing steadily public debt, would lift average annual growth rates and improve inclusiveness. This is among the key policy insights of the OECD’s 2019 Economic Survey of Italy, launched on 1 April 2019 by the OECD Secretary General and Italy’s Minister of Finance. Compared current polices, this reform programme would raise growth rates by about 1.5 percentage points by 2030, expand employment and reduce inequalities.

Increasing productivity growth is key. Boosting productivity
will require enhancing competition in markets that are still protected, such as
professional services and local public services; raising innovation and
business dynamics, including through strengthening targeted incentives connected
to the Industry 4.0 plan; removing incentives for SMEs to stay small and
obstacles hampering their growth; and completing the reform of insolvency

Among the reforms proposed in the Survey, those concerning the efficiency of public administration
and justice system would have the largest impact on GDP growth by strengthening
the rule of law, thus supporting investment and productivity growth. The
expansion of active labour market programmes and reducing social security
contributions would also generate large benefits by boosting employment and
social inclusion.

Reducing the public debt ratio by steadily raising the
primary budget surplus to above 2% is essential to address the risk to the
broader economy of the high public debt ratio. Lower interest rates have
reduced interest payments on the public debt to a record low of 3.5% of GDP in
2018, which is however near what Italy spends on education.

Italy can raise the primary budget surplus by incorporating in the annual budget through and effective spending reviews that help rationalise current spending by reducing waste and reallocating resources towards more effective programmes. Closing the early retirement scheme introduced in 2019 would free resources to boost employment and opportunities for young people in addition to improving inter-generational equity. Implementing this programme would help Italy’s successful enterprises develop and new enterprises to follow their path, generating opportunities for Italians across the country. A future blog will discuss how this reform programme can address the large disparities between the regions such as those around Brembo’s headquarters and those around Valle dell’Acate.

OECD (2019), OECD Economic Surveys: Italy 2019, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Finland: growing and reforming, but no time for complacency

By Christophe André and Jon Kristian Pareliussen, OECD Economics Department

After a long period of lacklustre economic performance, robust growth has resumed. The Finnish economy suffered a series of sizeable adverse shocks alongside the global financial and economic crisis, facing major difficulties in the electronic and forest industries, in addition to a severe recession in Russia. Sound fundamentals and policy settings helped weather the impact of those shocks, and by early 2017 the economy had regained strong momentum. The recovery is broad-based across economic sectors, employment is picking up, and high business and consumer confidence point to a strong expansion going forward.

But challenges remain, as the 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Finland shows. GDP per capita exceeds the OECD average, but is significantly lower than in Denmark, Germany and Sweden, reflecting differences both in productivity and labour utilisation (Figure 1). A rapidly ageing population reduces labour supply and puts pressure on public finances. Hence, future growth and well-being will hinge on a higher employment rate and productivity gains, both in the private and public sectors. Reassuringly, these challenges are well understood by the government, which has been implementing structural reforms across a wider range and with more determination and coherence than in most other OECD countries.Finland2.JPG

Many of these reforms concern the labour market. The 2016 Competitiveness Pact between the government and the social partners lowers unit labour costs by about 4% from 2017 by internal devaluation. The social partners have also moved from a system of national-level collective agreements towards a system of “organised decentralisation”, where sector-level collective agreements are coordinated following the lead of export industries, and more leeway is given to local-level bargaining. Furthermore, the duration of unemployment benefits was reduced by 100 days in 2017, a job search requirement and a new activation model for the unemployed were introduced, the trial period for new hires was extended and education made more modular and nimble to better respond to evolving skill needs.

The health, social services and regional government reform will shift the responsibility for organising health care and social services from municipalities to 18 newly created autonomous counties from January 2020, bringing the sub-national government structure closer to that of the other Nordic countries. Goals of the reform include providing people with more equal services, increasing freedom of choice and improving the sustainability of general government finances. The reform is welcome, and its success is crucial to meet the needs of an ageing population and ensure long-term fiscal sustainability (Figure 2).

Finland no time for complacency2

The strong pick-up in economic growth and an impressive reform record are reasons for optimism, not complacency. Social welfare reform could boost employment further, as many unemployed today will see only small net income increases or even incur a loss upon return to work. Coordinating the tapering of various working-age benefits against earnings could drastically improve work incentives and transparency, while preserving the current level of social protection, and is hence a more promising route for future reform than a basic income. Furthermore, specific measures could lift work incentives for parents and older workers. Combined with the new income registry linking benefit payments to real-time incomes from 2019, such reforms would make for a truly efficient and inclusive benefit system, adapted to evolving work patterns. Work incentives could be further strengthened by reducing the tax burden on labour while further increasing indirect and property taxes and reducing tax expenditures. Such a tax shift, along with measures to support business development and entrepreneurship could also give productivity a welcome boost.


OECD (2018), OECD Economic Surveys: Finland 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Brighter futures or dashed expectations? The global recovery needs to deliver gains for all

By Lukas Lehner and Dorothée Rouzet, OECD Economics Department

Global growth has gained momentum in 2017 and the economic recovery is moving forward, as shown in our latest Economic Outlook. Labour productivity is improving from its decade-long sluggishness. Yet, expected productivity gains still lag far behind pre-crisis norms, and will not be sufficient to set the stage for long-term improvements in living standards (Figure 1, Panel A). Multiple structural obstacles –  including a lack of competition and business dynamism and high shares of “zombie” capital – slow down the investment, innovation, and technology diffusion that are crucial for productivity growth.


Slow labour productivity growth has been a driver of slow increases in real wages, alongside remaining hidden labour market slack, a rise in non-standard forms of employment and weakened labour market institutions (Figure 1, Panel B). This means that in most advanced economies, incomes are unlikely to rise in line with the pace that households experienced in pre-crisis decades, and that they have come to expect for the future.

Without stronger and more widely shared productivity, wage and income growth, promises to younger generations will not be kept. In the past, each generation used to enjoy rising incomes over their working lives and higher living standards than their elders. These trends have slowed or even reversed in the last decade for generations currently in their prime working age (Figure 2). Real incomes have decreased for people born in the 1970s, feeding into public dissatisfaction. Ensuring that this lost decade does not become a “lost generation” is a call for deeper policy changes.


To raise prospects for better living standards for their populations, policymakers need to take action to catalyse more robust investment and productivity gains towards higher wages and incomes for all. Reform packages should focus on promoting competition and trade, improving active labour market policies and social protection, and developing human capital to seize the opportunities of the future. The short-term momentum provides a window for bold action that could and should promote stronger and more inclusive growth.


OECD (2017), OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2017 Issue 2, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2017), Preventing Ageing Unequally, OECD Publishing, Paris.