Labour pains?

The latest ONS labour market release reveals that in the three months to April the number of people unemployed in the UK was 2.472 million, up by 23,000 on the previous three months (i.e. the three months to January). The rate of unemployment – the number of people unemployed expressed as a percentage of those economically active – nudged upwards to 7.9% from 7.8% in the previous three months.

In a previous article A labour challenge for Osborne we considered the possibility that some of the emerging patterns in the labour market numbers could act as an impediment on the future potential output of the UK economy. The latest figures seem to offer little obvious comfort in this respect. Here, we note three causes for possible concern.

Firstly, we note the continued rise in inactivity. Of those of working age, inactivity rose by a further 29,000 in three months to April to stand at 8.186 million. This is an historic high and equates to 21.5% of the potential working population.

Secondly, we note the continued rise in long-term unemployment. The number of people unemployed for more than one year rose by 85,000 in the three months to April to stand at 772,000. This compares with 399,000 in the same three month period in 2007, just as the first clear signs of the impending financial crisis were being drawn to the public’s attention. In other words, this measure of long-term unemployment has effectively doubled since the financial crisis. But, more than this, 31.2% of those unemployed have been so for at least one year.

Thirdly, we note the high levels of youth unemployment. In the three months to April the number of unemployed people aged 18-24 was 713,000. This was down on the previous three months, but by a mere 2,000. The unemployment rate amongst 18-24 year-olds is 17.3% which is more than double the overall unemployment rate of 7.9%.

Aside from the very obvious personal costs of unemployment and of inactivity, each of these labour market issues poses important economic challenges for the country and its policy-makers. These are difficult challenges at the best of times. But, they could hardly be more difficult given the current national and international economic environment and, of course, the tendency for fiscal consolidation both at home and abroad.


Unemployment: public sector feels the pain as jobless hits 2.47 million Telegraph, Harry Wallop (16/6/10)
Unemployment: what the experts say Guardian (16/6/10)
Unemployment rises as public sector shrinks Financial Times, Brian Groom (16/5/10)
UK unemployment rises to 2.47 million BBC News (16/6/10)
Unemployment levels a ‘challenge’ for government: Interview with Work and Pensions minister, Chris Grayling BBC News (16/6/10)


Latest on employment and unemployment Office for National Statistics (16/6/10)
Labour Market Statistics, June 2010 Office for National Statistics (16/6/10)
Labour market statistics portal Office for National Statistics
For macroeconomic data for EU countries and other OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Korea, see:
AMECO online European Commission


  1. Evaluate the possible consequences for the UK economy, both now and in the future, of: (i) high and rising levels of inactivity; (ii) high and rising levels of long-term unemployment; and (iii) high levels of youth unemployment.
  2. Again, thinking about the issues of labour market activity, the duration of unemployment and youth unemployment, what policy recommendations would you make in trying to tackle them?
  3. If you were writing this blog in a year’s time, what would you expect will have happened to levels or rates of inactivity, long-term unemployment and youth unemployment? Explain your answer.
  4. Again, if you were writing this blog in a year’s time, would you expect to find any other emerging patterns in labour market statistics? Explain your answer.