Economy tracker: Unemployment

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Unemployment fell by 102,000 to 1.86 million in the three months to the end of January, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in February fell by 31,000 to 791,200, its lowest level since 2008, the ONS said.

The employment rate now stands at 73.3%, the highest rate of people in work since the ONS began keeping records in 1971.

Understanding unemployment:
  • A person is classed as unemployed if not only out of work, but also actively looking for work and available to start work within a fortnight
  • Unemployment figures are based on a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics. They show the average number of people unemployed over a three-month period
  • A new survey is done every month, but comparisons are made between separate three-month periods, not overlapping ones. e.g. April-June v Jan-March, not April-June v March-May
  • The ONS also publishes the claimant count which shows the number of people receiving Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) in a particular month. That figure comes from information supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions
  • The unemployment figure is higher than the claimant count as many jobseekers do not or cannot claim JSA
  • The two main measures can sometimes move in different directions. A change in benefits rules moving people on to JSA from another benefit, for example, would increase the claimant count without a corresponding increase in unemployment.

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Graduates at a job fair

Unemployment is referred to as a lagging indicator, because businesses will often delay laying people off as long as they can in difficult times.

A few months after the start of the recession in 2008, unemployment started to rise sharply. When the global financial crisis hit, the unemployment rate was a little over 5% or 1.6 million.

Towards the end of 2009, with the UK coming out of its severest recession since the 1950s, it was almost a million higher at 2.5 million, or 8%.

Unemployment peaked at almost 2.7 million at the end of 2011, its highest level for 17 years.

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