Immigrant employment ‘misleading’

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Human Rights Service (HRS), an Oslo-based foundation that studies immigration and integration, is accusing the Norwegian government of presenting a misleading picture of immigrant employment levels in Norway. HRS claims that full-time employment among those from countries outside western Europe and North America is much lower than officially portrayed.

Only 57 percent of those described as “non-western immigrants” by state statistics bureau SSB and in their most productive work years (age 25-61) actually have jobs, according to SSB figures provided to HRS. That compares to 84 percent of native Norwegians, a difference of 27 percentage points.

‘Ticking time bomb’
The government’s presentation of employment levels, however, sets the difference at only 16.5 percentage points because it uses SSB’s figures for all persons aged 15 to 74 years. Within that age group, 53.6 percent of non-western immigrants were employed, compared to 70.1 percent of all others in Norway.

HRS calls the government presentation a “massaging of the figures,” arguing that the numbers don’t accurately reflect the actual situation because they include both students and retirees who aren’t normally employed, at least not full-time.

“Both in the state budget and in (a recent) report on integration, the government is making the figures look better than they are,” Hege Storhaug of HRS told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. She called the real figures “a ticking time bomb,” because the lower employment levels among immigrants will have a negative impact on the welfare state. Fewer employed persons are paying into the welfare system in relation to those who will make claims on it in the future, “and the government knows that,” Storhaug said.

Immigrant unemployment still higher
Unemployment among immigrant groups in Norway is on average significantly higher than for the general population, and the immigrant population is increasing at a rapid rate. Employment is lowest among non-western immigrants and refugees, whereas there is relatively high employment among immigrants from Europe. Employment among western immigrants between 25 to 61 years of age is just 7 percentage points lower than for the general population.

HRS is generally putting forward the case that increasing immigration is presenting huge challenges to  the welfare state, which it will struggle to meet in the years ahead. HRS argues that the government should provide the full picture on unemployment levels among immigrants, and SSB officials agree.

“The criticism from HRS is not entirely unfounded,” Bjørn Olsen of SSB told Aftenposten. “We probably should more clearly stress the provisos that exist when you use such a broad age spectrum in employment statistics.” Knut Røed, senior researcher at the Frisch Center, confirmed that the employment picture looks much different when the age span is narrowed.

SSB uses the 15-74 age group because that is the span used by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), and because SSB also wants to include part-time work among the young and older sections of the population in the overall figures. It is considering options to present a more nuanced version of its statistics.

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay and Nina Berglund

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