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The same refrain from the employment statistics: good topline figures, but problems persist in the detail

By Mark Wallace
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The ONS' Labour Market Statistics paint a familiar picture today:

  • Employment is up, both in terms of the headcount (29.84 million, up 80,000 on the previous quarter and up 275,000 from a year ago) and as a percentage (71.6 per cent, up 0.2 percentage points on the previous quarter and 0.4 percentage points from a year ago)
  • Unemployment is down, in terms of the headcount (2.49 million, down 24,000 on the previous quarter and 105,000 over the year) and as a percentage (7.7 per cent, down 0.1 percentage on the quarter and 0.4 percentage points on the year). This means we have crept a little closer to the 7 per cent boundary at which Mark Carney will consider raising interest rates
  • The number of people who are economically inactive is also down on both counts (22.3 per cent, down 0.1 percentage points on the quarter and 0.2 percentage points on the year; 8.96 million people in total , down 33,000 on the quarter and 52,000 from a year ago)

The latter statistic is particularly interesting - this represents people of working age who are for one reason or another not seeking work, or not able to work. As such, it includes carers, students, the disabled and so on, who for obvious reasons often find it difficult to move into the workforce. A reduction in these figures without a rise in unemployment is a positive sign both economically and socially.

There are still problems, though.

Youth unemployment rose on the previous quarter by 9,000. The picture is slightly confusing - as Lottie Dexter from the Million Jobs campaign points out, that is a 9,000 rise from 951,000 in February-April 2013 to 960,000 in May-July 2013, but we also know from last month's release that the figure for April-June 2013 was 973,000. Therefore while things got worse in April-June, there is some sign they improved in July.

In practice, this means there is a fluctuation around the 950,000 - 970,000 mark, bumping up and down. Whichever way you look at it, that is too high. 

There are other issues - for example, while the economy's flexibility cushioned the impact of the recession by allowing people to become part-time rather than pitching them into outright unemployment, we have yet to see that phenomenon reversed. The proportion of workers in part-time unemployment who would like to have a full-time job is just about static:

As I said last month, now the overall employment figures are improving, more focus is needed on those at risk of being left behind.


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