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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.

Articles

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)

Data

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

Questions

  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.

On 21st April the IMF published its latest World Economic Outlook. It forecasts that the output of the world economy will grow by 4.2% in 2010, following last year’s 0.6% contraction, and by a further 4.3% in 2011. However, the Foreword to the report identifies considerable economic uncertainties. In particular, it identifies ‘fiscal fragilities’ and, hence, a ‘pressing need’ for fiscal consolidation. But, it also points to the need for policies ‘to buttress lasting financial stability’.

The IMF notes that Europe has come out of the recession slower than other parts of the world. For the EU-27 it is predicting growth of 1.0% this year, following a contraction of 4.1% last year, but with growth remaining at 1% in 2011. The UK is forecast to grow by 1.3% this year, following a contraction of 4.9% last year, and by a further 2.5% in 2011. Therefore, economic growth in the UK is forecast to be stronger than that across the European Union in both 2010 and, in particular, in 2011.

If we look at the expected growth in some of the principal components of the UK’s aggregate demand we see signs of a ‘rebalancing’. Firstly, household spending, which contracted by 3.2% last year is expected to rise by 0.2% in 2010 and by 1.4% in 2011. Secondly, general government current expenditure, which grew by 2.2% last year, is forecast to grow by 1.3% this year but, as the expected fiscal consolidation kicks in, will fall by 1% in 2011. Thirdly, gross fixed capital formation (capital expenditures) which fell by some 14.9% in 2009 is forecast to fall this year by a further 2.6%, before growing by 4.7% in 2011.

Report

World Economic Outlook, April 2010 IMF

Articles

IMF Raises 2010 Growth Outlook, Says Government Debt Poses Risk Bloomberg Businessweek, Sandrine Rastello (22/4/10)
GDP figures: what the experts say Guardian (23/4/10)
IMF cuts UK forecast in blow to Gordon Brown The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (22/4/10)
IMF maintains U.K. 2010 forecast at 1.3 per cent Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (21/4/10)
Global recovery faster than expected, says IMF BBC News (21/4/10) )
IMF nudges up world GDP view; fiscal fears mount Reuters, Lesley Wroughton and Emily Kaiser (21/4/10)

Data

World Economic Outlook Reports IMF
World Economic Outlook Databases IMF
For macroeconomic data for EU countries and other OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Korea, see:
AMECO online European Commission

Questions

  1. What economic uncertainties do you think might affect the forecasts of economic growth for both the world and UK economies? Would you expect these uncertainties to be less or more significant in the UK?
  2. What do you understand by the term ‘fiscal consolidation’? Why do you think the IMF are highlighting this as a concern?
  3. Why do you think growth across Europe has been lagging behind other parts of the world? What might explain why growth in the UK is expected to be above that across Europe over the next two years?