Good news on jobs
There's plenty of good news in today's labour market figures. We can all take cheer from the fact that the private sector has been creating more full-time jobs - for men and women - with ministers taking extra relief from the fact that this has outpaced the fall in employment in the public sector.
With inflation running at 4%, households will not welcome the fact that the annual growth in average earnings has actually dropped back a little. Given all that we're hearing about the pressure on the High Street, it's not good news for retailers either. On average, earnings (excluding bonuses, which are highly volatile at this time of year) are growing at an annual rate of 2.2%, slightly down on the previous month.
However, for the Bank of England, weak pay growth, during a period when the target measure jumped up to 4.4%, will provide welcome evidence that the inflation we're importing from the rest of the world is not becoming entrenched. Crucially, wage inflation in the private sector - which is obviously not subject to any government pay freeze - has been stable since September, when inflation was "only" 3.1%.
Nationwide, the wider, ILO measure of unemployment has fallen by 17,000, though there has been a small rise in Wales. The number of people in work has risen by an impressive 143,000 - and, for once, the rise has been driven by an increase in full-time work.
There are now 390,000 more people in work than there were a year ago, though still 331,000 fewer than before the crisis. That increase in total employment since the start of last year has been despite a 132,000 fall in the number working in the public sector.
It's not all good news. There has been a very small rise in the number claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, but that appears to be due to recent changes in the policy towards single parents, many of whom have been moved on to that form of support. The headline rate of youth unemployment has also risen slightly, though less than many had feared.
The puzzle, if there is one, would be how an economy that is supposed to have been broadly flat between December and February was able to produce 143,000 more jobs than in the previous three months. Yes, labour market figures do tend to lag behind the rest of the economy. It could be that the impact of the slowdown at the end of the year will only be seen in future months. But the experience of the past two years has been that the labour market has responded more quickly to changes in the economy than in the past. When you add this rate of job creation to the tax revenues taken in over those months, there still must be some room to hope that the fall in output at the end of the year will turn out to be a blip.
It's too soon to call the peak in either unemployment or inflation, but if you're not a retailer or a saver it's been a decent week.