Roma in the labour market: policy lessons

2 women cooking in a kitchen, supervised by a chef
Roma take part in a vocational training programme in Albania

Niall O’Higgins

 

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – 14 March 2013 –The Roma are arguably both the largest ‘minority’ ethnic group in Central and South-eastern Europe and the one that has suffered most from transition to the market economy. Recent survey data show that, while some progress was made during the 2004-2011 period, Roma continue to experience pronounced labour market disadvantages when compared to majority populations.   

 

Roma face jobless rates that exceed the rates facing non-Roma living in close proximity to Roma communities.Wage levels for Roma men are consistently below those of non-Roma living in close proximity. For women, the gap is even larger, demonstrating a ‘double burden’ arising both from their ethnicity and from their gender. 

 

Two major explanations for Roma labour market disadvantages are commonly given:  lower levels of educational achievement and labour market discrimination.

 

Changes during the first half of the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2004 -2011)

Some improvements in the status of Roma took place during this period. Roma educational participation rates rose but they continue to be much lower amongst Roma than amongst their non-Roma counterparts. However, jobless rates fell much more for non-Roma than for Roma with equivalent levels of education. This suggests that education levels are not the sole explanation for Roma labour market difficulties.

 

jobless rates fell much more for non-Roma than for Roma with equivalent levels of education in the surveyed countries
Percentage point changes in employment rates of Roma and non-Roma men, and in the ratio between them, 2004-2011 Abbreviations: BiH=Bosnia and Herzegovina; fYROM = the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Source: Calculated from the UNDP Regional Roma survey 2004 and the UNDP/WB/EC regional Roma survey 2011 Notes: 1) The jobless rate is defined as the proportion of the gender-/ethnic-specific working age (15-64) population which is neither in education nor employment. 2) The ratio is defined so that equality = 100, to facilitate comparability. Changes in this ratio show the percentage point change in the likelihood of a Roma man being jobless compared to a non-Roma man.

 

In most of the countries surveyed, Roma/non-Roma ratio of employment rates fell, pointing to further labour market deterioration for both Roma women and men. However, the Roma/non-Roma wage gap narrowed in six of eight countries surveyed.

 

In most of the countries surveyed, Roma/non-Roma ratio of employment rates fell, pointing to further labour market deterioration for both Roma women and men
Change in employment rates for Roma and non-Roma women, and in the ratio between them, 2004-2011

 

Drivers of disadvantage

On average, the employment gap and the wage gap between Roma and non-Roma cannot be explained by differences in individual characteristics, such as levels of education.

 

the Roma/non-Roma wage gap narrowed in six of eight countries surveyed
Percentage point changes in Roma/non-Roma wage ratios, 2004-2011

 

What, then, is driving these gaps? One possibility is that Roma attend lower quality schools, particularly via mechanisms that track them into ‘special schools’.

 

Extensive Roma involvement in the informal economy could be a second possible explanation for these gaps. For Roma men, much of the wage gap can be explained by participation in the informal sector, however, much of the wage gap in the formal sector remains unexplained.

 

Conclusions and policy implications

Programmes that promote employment generation in the formal sector would seem to have stronger potential for improving Roma employment and wage prospects than do measures which encourage informal employment.

 

Measures to improve school quality, to support Roma employment in the formal sector, and to combat discriminatory practices are needed to improve Roma employment and wage prospects. However, more work is necessary to identify more precisely the underlying causes of these differentials, in order to find adequate remedial measures. It is clear that the measures adopted thus far have not been sufficient to significantly reverse the disadvantages faced by Roma on the labour market.

 

Initiatives aimed at promoting Roma (or non-Roma) employment need to undergo rigorous impact evaluation. It is only in this way that more successful approaches can be accurately identified.

 

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