On my commute to work on the 6th May, I happened to listen to a programme on BBC radio 4, which provided some fascinating discussion on a variety of economic issues. Technological change is constant and unstoppable and the consequences of it are likely to be both good and bad.
In this programme some top economists, including Joseph Stiglitz offer their analysis of the impact of technology and how the future might look, by considering a range of factors, such as youth unemployment, the productivity of labour, education, pensions and inequality. The benefits of new technology can be seen as endless, but the impact on inequality and how the benefits of technology are being distributed is a concern for many people. The best introduction to the programme and its content is simply to reproduce the description provided by BBC radio 4.
The baby boom generation came of age when it was accepted knowledge that innovation and productivity would always lead to higher standards of living. The generations which followed assumed this truth would continue into the future indefinitely. With the crash of 2008 the upward mobility the middle classes assumed was their right evaporated, and it is unlikely to return.
Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, asks how the work force of the future will be changed by the advancements of technologies. How should governments respond to a jobs market which is hollowing out opportunities for traditional educated professions and how will rewards for innovation and income for labour be distributed without creating a society plagued by endemic inequality?
We will speak with optimists and pessimists on both sides of the argument to find out how the repercussions of these changes will affect the way we all live now and well into the future.
It is well worth listening to and provides some interesting insights as to what the future might look like, as the inevitable technological change continues. The link for the programme is below.
The future is not what it used to be BBC Radio 4 (6/5/14)
- What are the expected costs and benefits of technological change?
- Which factors are discussed as being the main obstacles to upwards mobility? Why have these become more prevalent in recent decades?
- Using a diagram, explain how technology can improve economic growth. To what extent is the multiplier effect important here?
- How is technology expected to affect the labour market? Use a diagram to help your explanation and make sure you consider both sides of the argument.
- What is meant by the idea that the benefits of new technology are likely to be felt in the long run?
- How important is education in creating equal opportunities?
- What is meant by secular stagnation? Is it seen as being a problem?
Youth unemployment has been one of the main headlines for some months, with data showing a record number of young people out of work.
As part of the government’s £1bn Youth Contract that aims to help young people back into work and help those unable to find employment, Nick Clegg has announced wage subsidies to firms hiring 18-24 year olds will be paid earlier.
Some of the costs of unemployment are obvious. For the individual who is unemployed, it means a lack of income and hence inability to buy goods and services. This then has wider implications for the economy. If people are unable to purchase goods and services, this contributes to a lower level of aggregate demand, which in times of recession, is hardly ideal.
Unemployment also means an inefficient use of resources, meaning the economy is operating below full capacity. Fewer people in work also implies lower tax revenues for the government, at the same time as higher unemployment benefit payments, contributing towards a growing budget deficit. This point is of particular concern, when it is young workers claiming benefits, as it could mean a life of dependency.
There are also some longer-term consequences, in particular for those who have been out of work for some time. They lose their skills, making it harder to find a job and this can pose costs to employers and further costs to the government through re-training. As such, government initiatives to tackle youth unemployment have never been more important.
The wage subsidies that were announced back in November will now be paid when young people have been out of work for six months, instead of nine. This initiative aims to help reduce youth unemployment in areas where it is at its worst. Twenty local authorities have been identified as priorities for the government and will benefit from this scheme. As Nick Clegg said to CBI summit:
“Three months can make all the difference. When you feel like your banging your head against a brick wall, when you live in an area where opportunities are already few and far between, another 12 weeks of rejection letters, of being cut off, of sitting at home waiting, worrying, that can seriously knock the stuffing out of you, making it extremely difficult to pick yourself up …
So jobcentres will be able to make use of the subsidy before people are referred to the Work Programme, capitalising on their links with local employers, and they’ll also intensify support, so more training, more regular coaching, spending more time with young people to knock a CV into shape or prep ahead of an interview.”
There are critics of the scheme, who argue that it is too little, too late and that it will simply displace older workers, thereby creating worse unemployment for another group. Until the economy begins to grow and confidence returns to the markets, unemployment is likely to remain a frequent headline. The following articles consider the wage subsidy and the state of unemployment in the UK.
Wage subsidy could mean more jobs Independent Online, Business Report, Pierre Heistein (14/6/12)
Wage subsidies scheme moved forward The Press Association (27/6/12)
Wage subsidy plan for young workers brought forward BBC News (27/6/12)
Wage subsidies scheme moved forward Independent, Alan Jones (27/6/12)
Nick Clegg announces extra help for jobless in 20 troublespots Guardian, Juliette Jowit (27/6/12)
Young people’s prospects have ‘nose-dived’ says report BBC News, Judith Burns (25/6/12)
Economic gap between young and old significantly worse since 2008 – study Guardian, James Ball and Helene Mulholland (25/6/12)
- Why is unemployment such a big concern for the UK economy? What is so important about youth unemployment?
- Which factors have contributed towards such high youth unemployment?
- How will the wage subsidy encourage firms to take on more young people? Think about how a rational firm behaves when choosing between 2 workers.
- Why does the wage subsidy cause concern for organisations supporting the employment of older workers?
- To what extent do you agree with the Guardian article that says that young people have borne the brunt of the recession and subsequent government cuts?
- What other things have been undertaken in a bid to reduce unemployment and stimulate the economy?
- Think about the costs of unemployment. Categorise them into costs to (a) the individual, (b) friends and family, (c) the government and (d) the economy.
Disagreements are hardly an uncommon occurrence during Prime Minister’s Questions and today the key issue up for debate was UK unemployment. Figures released show that in the 3 months to November 2011, UK unemployment rose to 2.685 million – an increase of 118,000. The ONS said that unemployment now stands at 8.4% – the highest figure in well over a decade.
However, the increase in unemployment is not as high as it was in the 3 months previous to that, which is possibly an indication that the labour market is slowly beginning to recover and the government’s labour market policies are starting to take effect. The government claimed that cuts in the public sector will be compensated by growth in private sector jobs, but the evidence from the ONS did little to back this up.
The labour market is crucial for the recovery of the UK. Jobs mean income and income means consumer spending. If the job market remains uncertain and more people enter unemployment, consumer spending is likely to remain weak for some time. Chris Williamson, the chief economist at Markit:
The increase in unemployment, plus job security worries and low pay growth for those in work, means consumer spending may remain very subdued this year, despite lower inflation alleviating the squeeze on real incomes that caused so much distress to households in 2011.
One area of specific criticism leveled at the Coalition was the extent of youth unemployment, which reached 22.3%. Ed Miliband said the government had cut ‘too far and too fast’ and that it will be remembered for standing aside and doing nothing ‘as thousands of people find themselves unemployed’. The figures are clearly concerning, but the Coalition maintains that policies designed to tackle the labour market are beginning to take effect and over the coming months, the economy will begin to see a decline in the unemployment rate. The following articles look at the unemployment crisis.
UK unemployment rises to 2.8m Guardian, Heather Stewart (18/1/12)
Leaders clash in commons over jobless rise BBC News (18/1/12)
UK jobless rate hits new 17-year high Financial Times, Brian Groom (18/1/12)
Unemployment rise: reaction The Telegraph, Louise Peacock (18/1/12)
Unemployment total rises by 19000 The Press Association (18/1/12)
Politicians give cautious welcome as quarterly unemployment falls by 1000 in Wales WalesOnline, Claire Miller (18/1/12)
Employment Minister: unemployment is too high The Telegraph (18/1/12)
Chris Grayling: ‘Unemployment figures are complex’ BBC News (18/1/12)
Unemployment in graphics BBC News (18/1/12)
Data Tables: Labour Market Statistics Excel Spreadsheets ONS January 2012
- What type of unemployment is being referred to in the above articles?
- Explain the mechanism by which a recession will lead to higher unemployment.
- Using a diagram to help your explanation, analyse the impact of a fall in aggregate demand on the equilibrium unemployment rate and wage rate. What happens to unemployment if wages are sticky downwards?
- What can explain such different stories of unemployment between Scotland, England and Wales?
- What policies have the Coalition implemented to tackle the rising problem of unemployment? On what factors will their effectiveness depend?
- Why is the UK’s job market so important for the future economic recovery of the UK?
UK unemployment is rising. According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, in the third quarter of 2011 the unemployment rate was 8.3%, the highest since 1986. The number unemployed was 2.62 million, up 129,000 on the previous quarter.
The figures for those aged from 16 to 24 are particularly worrying. If you include those in full-time education but who are looking for employment and are available for work, the unemployment rate in this age group was 23.3%. If you exclude those in full-time education, the rate was 20.6% (up 1.8 percentage points since the previous quarter).
The government was quick to blame the eurozone crisis for the rise in unemployment. The Minister of State for Employment, Chris Grayling, said, “What we are seeing are the consequences of the crisis in the eurozone.”
But is this true? Unemployment is a lagging indicator. In other words, it takes time for unemployment to respond to changing economic circumstances. Thus the rise in unemployment from quarter 2 to quarter 3 2011 was the result of the economic conditions at the beginning of 2011 and earlier – a time when growth in the eurozone was faster than that in the UK. The eurozone economy grew by 2.4% in the 12 months to 2011Q1, whereas the UK economy grew by only 1.6% over the same period. Even taking the 12 months up to 2011Q3, the eurozone economy grew by 1.4%, whereas the UK economy grew by only 0.5%.
Of course, if the crisis in the eurozone leads to another recession, then this will almost certainly lead to a rise in unemployment. But that’s to come, not what’s happened.
The following articles look at the rise in unemployment and especially that of young people. They examine its causes and consider possible solutions at a time when governments in the UK and around the world are concerned to reduce public-sector deficits and debt.
Youth unemployment breaks 1m mark Independent, Alan Jones (16/11/11)
UK unemployment increases to 2.62m BBC News (16/11/11)
Youth unemployment reaches 1986 levels The Telegraph, Donna Bowater (16/11/11)
Over a million young people are jobless BBC News, Hugh Pym (16/11/11)
Unemployment figures rise ‘related to eurozone crisis’ BBC News, Employment minister Chris Grayling (16/11/11)
Labour’s Liam Byrne: Young jobless paying ‘brutal price’ BBC News, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions Liam Byrne (16/11/11)
UK unemployment ‘nothing to do with eurozone’ BBC News, Lord Oakeshott (16/11/11)
Coalition sheds crocodile tears over young jobless Guardian, Larry Elliott (16/11/11)
Is youth unemployment really rising because of the eurozone crisis? Guardian, Polly Curtis (16/11/11)
Eurozone and the UK: A tale of two crises BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (15/11/11)
Latest on the labour market – November 2011 ONS on YouTube (16/10/11)
Labour Market Statistics, November 2011 ONS (16/10/11)
Harmonised unemployment levels and rates for OECD countries (annual, quarterly and monthly) OECD StatExtracts
Economic Data freely available online Economics Network
- What are the causes of the UK’s rise in unemployment in quarter 3 of 2011?
- Why is unemployment particularly high for the 16 to 24 year old age group?
- Find out the unemployment rates for the 16 to 24 age group for other European countries for both females and males. How does the UK rate compare with the rest of Europe?
- What are meant by a ‘lagging indicator’ and a ‘leading indicator’? Why is unemployment a lagging indicator?
- Identify some other lagging indicators and some leading indicators and explain why they lag or lead the level of economic activity.
- What solutions are there to high unemployment of young people (a) in the short run; (b) in the long run?
There’s been a lot of bad news about the economy, but perhaps things are looking up. Inflation is now at 4% and the latest data suggests that unemployment has fallen, with more jobs being created in the private sector. An estimated 143,000 jobs were created, many of which were full-time and the ILO measure if unemployment is down by some 17,000. There is still some doom and gloom, as growth in annual average earnings has fallen slightly and this will undoubtedly affect retail sales. Numbers claiming JSA have also increased marginally to 1.5 million and youth unemployment has seen a small increase to 20.4%. A big area of concern is that unemployment might rise in the coming months due to the time lag. Growth in the last quarter of 2010 was negative and this could increase unemployment when the full effects are felt in the labour market later in the year. Howard Archer, the Chief Economist at HIS Global Insight had this to say about the latest data.
‘Despite the overall firmer tone of the latest labour market data, we retain the view that unemployment is headed up over the coming months. We suspect that likely below-trend growth will mean that the private sector will be unable to fully compensate for the increasing job losses in the public sector that will result from the fiscal squeeze that is now really kicking in. Indeed, we believe that private sector companies will become increasingly careful in their employment plans in the face of a struggling economy and elevated input costs.’
The wage price spiral hasn’t begun as many though, and this may encourage the Bank of England to keep interest rates down, especially as inflation has come down to 4% and concerns about growth still remain. So despite good news about unemployment overall falling, young workers, women and public sector workers have not benefited. Youth unemployment is up, more women are claiming JSA and more jobs in the public sector are expected to be cut this year. The following articles consider the implications.
UK Unemployment: What the experts say Guardian (13/4/11)
Good news on jobs BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (13/4/11)
Unemployment falls, but young are left on the shelf Independent, Sean O’Grady (14/4/11)
Unemployment falls but jobs market remains fragile Telegraph, Louisa Peacock (14/4/11)
UK unemployment data reveals downturn victims as jobless total drops Guardian, Heather Stewart (13/4/11)
FTSE boosted by dip in unemployment The Press Association (14/4/11)
Unemployment falls: reaction (including video) Telegraph (14/4/11)
- What is the ILO method of measuring unemployment?
- To what extent does the change in unemployment and inflation conform with the Phillips curve?
- What can explain the fall in the unemployment rate, despite the decline in the economy in the last quarter of 2010?
- Explain how the FTSE was affected by the lower unemployment rate.
- Why is unemployment expected to rise later this year?
- Why has there been a rise in the numbers claiming JSA, despite unemployment falling?
- What is meant by the wage-price spiral and why has it not occured?