This is really something I do not understand. I could unfortunately not find a picture of unemployment by district, but here is a picture of unemployment by Canton : Swiss unemployment quote by canton

The places with the most companies and jobs are Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Basel and Zürich, and they are in the regions with the highest unemployment. On the other hand, very rural regions of central Switzerland, Appenzell, Graubünden have almost no companies and almost no career opportunities other than agriculture, forestry and maybe tourism, and yet they have amazingly low unemployment rates.

Even within the canton themselves there is a huge difference, where in canton of Vaud for example the city of Lausanne has very high unemployment quote and other rural regions of the canton have a low unemployment quote, when actually almost all the work opportunities in the canton are centred around Lausanne, and outside of the capital it is mainly residential or rural, and there is very few companies implanted outside of Lausanne.

There is a few exceptions, like the canton of Jura and Tessin which is both very rural and have high unemployment, but outside of those 2 cantons the rule works pretty well.

So, why is unemployment proportional to work oportunities, and not inversely proportional like we'd expect? Does this mean that actually companies bring unemployment, rather than bring employment like we'd expect?

  • 10
    I cannot comment on Switzerland in particular, but in general the unemployment rate is not the inverse of the employment rate. In other words, it doesn't show the percentage of people without a job. The unemployment rate shows the percentage of people without a job that are searching for one. So it is to be expected that nobody is searching for work in places where there isn't any chance of finding one.
    – gabriele
    Sep 25, 2015 at 10:13
  • @gabriele Normally I'd agree but moving has a cost, so usually you'd search work first and move after you sign the contract, so your theory doesn't work, or at least it isn't that simple.
    – Bregalad
    Sep 25, 2015 at 13:46
  • 1
    @Bregalad it's not really my theory, but how economists define the unemployment and employment rates. The effects of long term lack of job opportunities on the unemployment rate is well known. Since I am not an economist I don't know how large the phenomenon is or whether this explains everything about the Swiss situation, that's why I made it a comment.
    – gabriele
    Sep 27, 2015 at 15:55
  • 1
    In rural areas, many young people move for their studies or to find their first job and then when a downturn comes they find themselves unemployed in the place they moved to. The people who count toward the unemployment rate have not been unemployed all their life! If you really are in this situation, you probably stopped looking for work long ago and moved to another category (disability, welfare, whatever), which is one of the reason behind the relationship between the unemployment and employment rates that @gabriele describes (which as he said, is not a theory but a basic fact).
    – Relaxed
    Sep 27, 2015 at 16:42
  • 2
    @Bregalad It's simply not the case, cf. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbeitslosenstatistik Overall, it's only slightly higher in the East (50%, not 300%). What you have several areas in the West (Bremen, Saarland, NRW) with relatively high unemployment and several areas in the former GDR (e.g. Thürigen, Sachsen) with relatively low unemployment. The thing that makes the West look so good is the extremely low unemployment rates in the South (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg), that's it. And the East is not all rural or backward, there are relatively attractive cities there now.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 28, 2015 at 3:50

2 Answers 2


There are 2 factors that I can think of:

  1. Higher frictional unemployment. When companies go out of business because they were mismanaged, disrupted by better technology, or can't compete with international trade the unemployment is called frictional unemployment. This is generally seen as 'good' unemployment; without this kind of unemployment stone tool makers would be still making stone tools and the world couldn't benefit from international trade. Workers displaced by frictional unemployment tend to find other jobs as new businesses arise to take the place of the old ones. It would make sense for cities with a competitive and dynamic entrepreneurial economy to have more of this kind of unemployment than rural areas where there is not as much change in the kinds of businesses that exist over time and the farmers are protected from losses by heavy farm subsidies.

  2. People follow opportunity. If there is a perception that there are more jobs in cities, people looking for jobs will go to the cities. As gabriele stated in the comments, unemployment measures the number of people who are actively looking for jobs. It makes sense for someone who is actively looking for a job to go to a big city where there are lots of job openings than a small town where there are fewer.

  • Actually the linked article is very misleading, the Swiss agriculture is in a very difficult situation and a thousand of farms stops their activity every year in the country. Higher subsides only reflects higher prices in Switzerland in general, notably because of the recent hyper-valuations of the Swiss Franc currency (the article even says Norway is in a similar position - because both countries were smart enough to stay clear of the huge mess that the EU is).
    – Bregalad
    Sep 25, 2015 at 15:54
  • @Bregalad You are talking about a long-term trend, the pace of change is still relatively slow (and slower than it would be without subsidies, which really are high, no matter how you look at them). Farms often stop their activities when the farmers go into retirement and don't hire much either when the economy does better. By contrast, the official unemployment rate is about short-term changes, after many years of unemployment people either leave the area or the job market entirely.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 27, 2015 at 9:49

In addition to @lazarusL's answer:

Skill and education requirements are another likely factor here - there may be a bunch of jobs available in the city, but the unemployed population might not have the skills to fill all of those positions.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .