Wednesday, 12 April 2017

How low can the UK jobless rate safely go?


According to the latest official data (mostly covering the three months to February 2017) just released by the Office for National Statistics, the UK labour market continues to enjoy a robust sustainable expansion.  

There were 39,000 more people in work (mostly full-time) in the latest quarter plus a record number of job vacancies (767,000), 45,000 fewer unemployed and 10,000 fewer economically inactive alongside an easing in pay pressure. 

A joint record employment rate of 74.6%, an unemployment rate at a 42-year low of 4.7% and almost zero (0.1%) growth in real average weekly earnings illustrates a remarkable structural change in the operation of the UK labour market compared with earlier decades. 

This particular combination of jobs and pay suggests that the unemployment rate could fall much further, perhaps below 4%, without triggering troublesome pay inflation. While the effect of Brexit uncertainty on the demand side of the economy might yet result in a temporary rise in unemployment later this year, full employment is thus now a more realistic prospect for the UK than at any time since the early 1970s.’        

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

UK jobs market stablises but no sign yet that Brexit means EU worker exit

It's UK jobs report day once again. This month's labour market data release from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) mostly covers the three months to December (i.e. Q4) 2016 

The UK labour market stabilized in the final quarter with little overall activity on the jobs front combined with slightly weaker growth in productivity and pay. 

The total number of people in work increased by 37,000 to 31.837 million (yet another record employment rate of 74.6%). But there was no increase in the number of employees - the smallish rise in employment consists of more self-employed people (up 13,000), more unpaid family workers (up 4,000) and more people on government supported schemes (up 21,000). The level of job vacancies meanwhile was broadly flat (at around 750,000) while the unemployment rate held steady at 4.8%. 

The ONS commentary suggests the labour market is now edging toward full capacity. But if by this they mean the market is now quite tight this still isn't showing up in the pay figures. Growth in output per hour worked (aka labour productivity) dipped to 0.3%, down from 0.4% in the third quarter, and together with stable unemployment this led to a slight fall in the rate of growth of average weekly earnings to 2.6%. With consumer price inflation picking-up, UK workers are thus beginning to face another bout of downward pressure on real pay, which may depress overall economic growth in the course of 2017.   

However, there is little sign that the labour market is yet being affected by an exodus of EU born workers following the EU referendum result. Given seasonal factors the number of EU born people working in the UK was more or less flat at around 2.3 million in the second half of last year, and in the final quarter of 2016 was 188,000 higher than in the corresponding quarter of 2015. While this may suggest the UK is no longer the draw it once was for EU migrants, Brexit has yet to trigger a big EU labour exit.’ 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Precarious workforce bears the brunt of UK jobs slowdown

It's possible that you might read positive things about the latest Jobs Report from the UK's Office for National Statistics, mostly covering the three months September to November 2016, which was published earlier today. If so, here is a cautionary note: 

The UK labour market showed clear signs of a modest slowdown toward the end of 2016 with the precarious workforce of temps, part-time employees and full-time self-employed bearing the brunt as businesses responded to economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote. The total number of people in work fell by 9,000 in the three months to November but this includes much bigger falls in the number of full-time self-employed (down 49,000), part-time employees (down 60,000) and temps (down 35,000). Although part-time self-employment increased (up 31,000) this is likely to be due to more under-employment among the self-employed unable to find enough hours of work. Only a sharp rise of 143,000 in the number of economically inactive people prevents the weaker jobs numbers from showing up as higher unemployment, the number of jobless people actively seeking work in fact falling by 52,000. Don’t be fooled, therefore, by apparently good headline news of falling unemployment and higher nominal wage growth (up to 2.7% excluding bonuses), the jobs market is at present slowing not growing, as those in precarious work know only too well.