Wednesday 17 February 2016

Latest official numbers show record UK employment remains a mixed blessing for economy

Economic growth may have slowed in the final quarter of last year but, as the Office for National Statistics informed us earlier today,  this didn’t prevent a further big quarterly rise in employment of 205,000 (0.7%), almost all full time, split roughly equally between employees and self-employed people. This helped keep the unemployment rate steady at 5.1% - the number of jobless people actively seeking work fell by 60,000 but 88,000 previously economically inactive people of working age entered the labour market while the overall economically active population (aka the total labour supply, including people above working age and migrants) increased by 145,000.
Despite the good news on jobs the juxtaposition of another record setting quarter for the working age employment rate (which has now reached 74.1%) and somewhat softer economic growth suggests deterioration in the UK’s already dire underlying labour productivity performance (though we won’t have figures to confirm this until later in the year).. This, along with strong growth in the active labour supply enabling employers to fill most job vacancies without too much difficulty, helps explain why average weekly earnings excluding bonuses are still rising at an annual rate of only 2%.
For the time being low consumer price inflation is protecting workers from the consequences of weakness in UK productivity and pay. But we face a rude awakening on jobs and real living standards once the price level starts accelerating at a more normal pace (i,e, moves back toward the Bank of England’s target rate of 2% CPI inflation) and/or if economic growth slows more sharply than forecasters at present expect.   

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