Jobs for the boys - and the over 65s
There's always plenty that the headline labour market figures leave out. This month I'm tempted to say they miss the story entirely. When you look at the big picture - it looks like not very much is happening to jobs in the UK. The broader measure of unemployment is moderately higher than a year ago, but so is employment. And the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance has actually fallen by 8% in the past year. But there is plenty going on behind those headline totals, with stark consequences for different parts of our society.
To put it bluntly - it's a good time to be a man, working in the private sector, and/or over 50. If you're under 25, or a woman, or working in the public sector, the labour market is a bleak place these days, and there's little sign that it's about to get better.
I flagged up a few weeks ago the sharp rise in the number of over 65 year-olds in work. This part of the workforce has again grown sharply in the latest quarter, by 56,000. There are now a record 900,000 people in this age group still in employment. The number of working 50-64 year olds is also on the rise, though only by 1.3% - roughly the same as for the population as a whole. Starting from a much lower base, employment in the over 65 category is an astonishing 17% up on the year.
Here's the stark reality: employment in the UK has risen by 296,000 since the start of 2010, and 75% of those jobs - or 222,000 - have gone to people over 50. Just under 44% of the jobs have gone to the 3% of workers over 65. For comparison, the number of 16-17 year olds in work has fallen by nearly 8% over the same period, while the number of working 18-24 year olds has been more or less flat.
The gender divide is even more striking. The number of women in work has risen by only 19,000 in the past year - or barely 0.1%. Put it another way: men account for fully 94% of the rise in the number of people in work. You'll find some of the explanation for that in the difference between the public and private sector. The figures here are less timely, but the number of private sector jobs rose by 428,000 in the year to December. Over that time, the public sector shed 132,000 jobs.
Sorry for all the numbers, but there are times when the figures tell the story better than words.
Anyone who remembers the 1980s and early 1990s recessions can only be struck by the contrast with today. Back then, partly as a result of the way corporate pensions were taxed, companies laid off older workers first, in the hundreds of thousands. Many of those people never found work again. Now we've interviewed a 70 year old accountant for today's news bulletins who did stop working a few years back, but so missed being part of the workforce he fought his way back last year, after applying to 50 firms. He doesn't want to ever retire.
As I said in that earlier post a few weeks back, long term it's excellent news for our economy - and the Treasury - that older people are staying in work. But we cannot afford for that to come at the expense of those who are just starting out. It cannot be good news for the Britain's inner cities that the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds is now more than 20%.