According to labour market data released by Office for National Statistics on 16 September, unemployment has risen to a 14-year high. The Labour Force Survey figures show a rise in unemployment from 2.26 million (7.2%) in the three months to April 2009 to 2.47 million (7.9%) in the three months to July 2009. The data also show a 12,000 rise in the claimant count between July and August.
However, there are signs that the UK economy is growing again. This was underlined by evidence given to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee on 15 September by the Governor of the Bank of England. So does this mean that businesses will take on more labour and that unemployment will fall?
The problem is that unemployment is a lagging indicator of economic activity. The reason is that many firms are reluctant to shed labour in recession and simply take up the slack as the economy recovers, without taking on extra labour. Even if they are short of labour, they may prefer to offer overtime to existing staff rather than employing new staff for fear that the upturn may be short-lived.
So what is likely to happen to unemployment over the coming months? Will it slowly fall or will it go on rising and, if so, for how long? Read the articles and then attempt the questions.
UK unemployment at 14 year high (video) BBC News (16/9/09)
UK jobless rate hits 14-year high Telegraph (17/9/09)
Unemployment crisis creates divide between private and public sector Telegraph (16/9/09)
Record one in five young people out of work (including video) Times Online (16/9/09)
Unemployment hits highest since 1995 Guardian (16/9/09)
Rising UK unemployment (charts of UK unemployment from 1984 to the present day) Guardian (16/9/09)
Unemployment at highest level since 1995 (including video) Channel 4 News (16/9/09)
- What is meant by the terms ‘leading indicators’ and ‘lagging indicators’? Give some examples of each.
- What determines the length of lag between a rise in output and (a) a rise in employment and (b) a fall in unemployment?
- Is unemployment a good measure of the excess supply of labour in the labour market? What other evidence might you need in order to assess the degree of slack in individual labour markets?
- If labour becomes more flexible in terms of the hours that people are prepared to work, will the unemployment lag increase or decrease? Explain.
- Under what circumstances does obtaining a university degree improve your job prospects?
- To what extent would reforming the benefits system, so as to reduce the poverty trap and give people a greater incentive to work, reduce unemployment (a) during a recession and (b) over the long term? What type of unemployment would be affected?