Two labour markets
Economic news comes in shades of grey - not black and white. Today's unemployment numbers are a case in point.
If you're interested in hearing both sides of the story on the broader economy right now, you might like to watch Flanders vs Flanders (below). There you get two economics editors for the price of one - we're all about value for money at Stephanomics.
The 281,000 rise in the broadest measure of unemployment is a shock to analysts who were looking for about half that amount. By that measure, there are now more than 750,000 more people out of work in the UK than when the recession began last spring, and the rate of increase has been accelerating since the autumn.
Much attention has focused on the discrepancy between that large rise in the broad, ILO (International Labour Organisation) measure of joblessness and the narrower claimant count, which rose by far less than expected in June - by under 24,000.
The ONS points out that the claimant count figure is more recent. If you compare like with like, the rise in the people claiming jobseeker's allowance between March and May (the months covered by the wider measure), was 226,000*, not far off the other figure.
Should we get excited about the difference between the two figures? I suspect the answer is no.
If the relative gap between the two numbers had grown in the past year, that would suggest that a rising proportion of the unemployed were either not eligible for jobseeker's allowance or simply deciding not to claim. That, in turn, might have told you something about the kind of people that have been losing their jobs.
You can't get the means-tested jobseeker's allowance if you have savings or household income about a certain level, though there is still the contribution-based benefit if you've made enough National Insurance contributions. Even if eligible, a lot of middle class people might not bother to claim.
However, the opposite appears to be true - a year ago, about half of the unemployed were claiming jobseeker's allowance. Now the figure is nearly two-thirds.
That is not so surprising. Because, as the latest figures underline once again, this has not been a white collar recession. Since last March, employment in manufacturing has fallen by 6.7% - more than twice as much as any other sector. For comparison, there's been a 2.8% fall in the the numbers employed in "finance and business services".
The fact that the recession has hit manufacturing so hard probably explains why one other widespread prediction has not turned out to be true. Women have not so far been worse hit by this recession - or if they have, it is in ways that are not captured by official statistics.
Female employment fell by 0.8% in the year to March. The number of men in work fell by more than twice as much - 2% - in the same period. (To state the obvious, these are percentage figures, so you can't say it's because there are a smaller number of women who work.)
I'm not surprised by those figures either. After all, this is a recession concentrated on manufacturing, property, and financial services - all sectors in which men outnumber women (by three to one in the case of manufacturing).
The number of jobs in "education, health and public administration" has actually risen by 2.1 % in the past year. There, women outnumber men by more than two to one.
It's interesting to note that number of part-time jobs has risen slightly in the past year, as the number of full-time jobs has fallen. But that is an exclusively male story - there's been a 5.7% rise in the number of men in part-time work, against a slight fall in the part-time jobs for women That's consistent with this idea that firms are trying to cut costs without laying off workers.
There is one commonly held view that finds further confirmation in this new data: British-born workers have borne the brunt of this recession so far.
In the first three months of 2009, there were roughly 3.8 million people in work in the UK who were born overseas, slightly more than a year before. Over the same period, the number of British-born workers with jobs fell by 451,000. The numbers are slightly different if you separate by nationality rather than birthplace, but the story is the same.
This is a difficult and important issue which I want to look at in more detail in a future blog. Suffice to say it will be interesting to see how the mainstream politicians handle it if this tale of two labour markets continues through to the election.
*Update, 16:34: In the interests of precision, the ONS has pointed out the 226,000 figure is not strictly the rise in the claimant count between March and May; it's the rise between the three month average for December to February and the three month average for March to May.