Lagging no more?
It looks like good news - if only I knew for sure.
The labour market is usually the last to recover from a recession - but right now it's almost leading the rest of the economy out.
A slight fall in the claimant count in November, the first since February 2008; the smallest quarterly rise in the broader measure of unemployment since spring 2008; a 53,000 rise in the number of people in work.
These are not figures you expect to see, in an economy still not formally out of recession.
I would love to say this is yet more evidence that the economy is growing after all - and/or that the UK labour market is now so flexible that companies can slash production and hours while keeping many more of their employees in work.
Both of those will be part of the explanation for these surprising figures. But I fear they cannot be the whole story.
For starters, if we say that flexibility has helped us see only a 2% fall in employment - following a roughly 6% fall in output - we have to explain why exactly the opposite has happened in the super-flexible USA.
America has had one of the less bad recessions of the G7 countries, with a peak to trough fall in national output of 3.7%, yet their unemployment rate has roughly doubled, and total employment has fallen by more than 4%.
Germany, on the other hand - that resolutely unflexible, non-Anglo-Saxon economy - has seen an even smaller rise in unemployment than we have, following an even tougher recession.
Their national output has fallen by more than 6%, while employment has fallen, well, it hasn't really fallen at all.
Far from becoming more American in this recession, the argument would have to be that British employers have become more German, holding on to their skilled workforces much more tightly than they ever have before, but cutting hours to reduce the impact on the bottom line.
That's definitely happened in Germany: even though employment has barely budged, Simon Kirby at the NIESR calculates that average hours in Germany have fallen sharply, by more than 4%.
But we have a good explanation for that - the government's short-time working scheme, which has produced a dramatic rise in the number of Germans working on short-time contracts.
There's no similar scheme in the UK - most of the government's efforts have been focussed on the youth end of the labour market.
But we do hear a lot about people working on shorter contracts or part-time (the number who say they are working part-time because they can't find anything else rose again this month). Is that why unemployment has not risen further?
Well, it's part of it. But Kirby thinks that average hours have only fallen by around 1% in the UK since the start of the recession.
So labour inputs, overall (taking into account what's happened to employment and to hours) have fallen about 3% - compared to a 4% decline in Germany and a nearly 12% fall in the US.
There's been a wage response too. As I've mentioned before, wages have held steady, and even fallen, in some cases, in this recession - whereas in the past they carried on going up.
That's helped employers keep workers on, even as it has squeezed household incomes and apparently forced many women back into part-time work.
But that effort to keep job losses down has affected the bottom line: unit labour costs are going up, and productivity has collapsed. (Inevitably, if employment falls by much less than output, output per worker is going to go through the floor.)
This could all work out well. If we see a strong recovery next year and employers are able to make up the ground they've lost - indeed, a strong recovery would reward their decision to hold on to their staff. But, as we know, a strong recovery is not what most economists expect.
However welcome it may be in the short term, there has to be a danger that the smaller than expected rise in unemployment is storing up trouble for the future.
Either companies will find they have to lay off staff after all - and the expected rise in the jobless numbers will lag even further behind the recovery than it usually does.
Or they may struggle against competitors - not least, American ones, who've shed labour so aggressively that productivity has even gone up. That, in turn, could make a slow recovery even slower.
It's one of those times that economists rain on everyone's parade, and at Christmas time, too. Sorry about that. But remember - if we get that strong recovery, this might all be good news after all.
UPDATE, 14:35: Just to add a bit of content to what I said about earnings taking some of the strain: today's November figures show public sector earnings growing by 2.8% in the past 12 months.
Public sector employment also rose, another factor propping up the figures. But private sector earnings (excluding bonuses) grew by 1.4% in the year to October down from 1.7% in November, and a new low.
As Graham Turner of GFC Economics has pointed out, there are five sectors where that measure of earnings growth has actually turned negative, including construction, textiles, and, yes, financial services. His chart is worth a lot of words on the subject.
Incidentally, some of you have suggested that onerous redundancy procedures are also part of the story. You may be right.
I guess the question would be whether it has discouraged lay-offs - as in comment three - or simply delayed them. The first sounds a bit Germanic, and possibly not such a bad thing if - that big if again - we have a strong recovery. But if they've simply been delayed, that sounds like another reason to expect the growth in the jobless to pick up again next year.