Unemployment is a key macroeconomic objective for governments across the world. The unemployment rate for the UK now stands at 7.9% according to the ONS, which recorded 2.56 million people out of work. But why is unemployment of such importance? What are the costs?
The economy is already in a vulnerable state and with unemployment rising by 70,000 people between December and February 2013, the state of the economic recovery has been questioned. Indeed, following the news of the worsening unemployment data, the pound fell significantly against the dollar, suggesting a lack of confidence in the British economy.
Although the increase in the number of people out of work is concerning, perhaps of more concern should be the number of long-term unemployed. The ONS suggests that more than 900,000 have now been out of work for more than a year. Not only does this pose costs for the individual in terms of lost earnings and skills, but it also imposes costs on friends and family and the wider economy. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the first chart, which shows the percentage of unemployed people out for work longer than 12 months.)
The chief executive of the Prince’s Trust focused on the costs of youth unemployment in particular, saying:
Thousands of these young people are long-term unemployed, often facing further challenges such as poverty and homelessness. We must act now to support these young people into work and give them the chance of a better future.
(Click here for a PowerPoint of the second chart, which shows how much higher the unemployment rate is for young people aged 18 to 24 than it is for the working age population as a whole.)
Furthermore, with so many people unemployed, we are operating below full-employment and thus below our potential output. Furthermore, the longer people are out of work, the more likely it is that they will lose their skills and thus require re-training in the future or find that there are now fewer jobs available to them based on their lower skill level.
In addition to this there are monetary costs for the government through lower tax receipts, in terms of income tax, national insurance contributions and even VAT receipts. With more people unemployed, the numbers claiming various unemployment-related benefits will rise, thus imposing a further cost on the government and the taxpayer. Another cost to the government of this latest data is likely to be the expectations of the future course of the economy. Numerous factors affect business confidence and unemployment data is certainly one of them. The concern is that business confidence affects many other variables as well and until we receive more positive data, the economy recovery is likely to remain uncertain. The following articles consider this topic.
UK unemployment rise adds to pressure on Osborne’s austerity strategy The Guardian, Phillip Inman (18/4/13)
Unemployment figures are ‘worrying’, David Cameron’s spokesman says The Telegraph, Peter Dominiczak (17/4/13)
UK unemployment rises to 2.56 million BBC News (17/4/13)
Unemployment jumps to 7.9% as rise in the number of young people out of work takes figure ‘dangerously’ close to a million Mail Online, Leon Watson (17/4/13)
Unemployment up as stay-at-home mothers head back to the job-centre Independent, Ben Chu (17/4/13)
Jobs data points to finely balanced market Financial Times, Brian Groom (18/4/13)
Hugh’s review: making sense of the stats BBC News (19/4/13)