Go Figure: How likely are you to lose your job?

Job application form

About 2.62 million people are unemployed. What's the chance of you becoming one of them? For his regular column, Michael Blastland finds out.

Unemployment is rising. People fear for their jobs. But what is the chance of becoming unemployed? Go Figure doesn't do crystal balls, but we can look at the most recent odds.

And here's the answer - about 1.5 in 100, on average.

That is, about 1.5% of people in work become unemployed every three months - for example, sacked, redundant, contract ended. This reached about 2% at the peak of the recession.

It's known as the hazard of unemployment. It's not routinely published but here's the data, unearthed for us by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


The chart shows how much it has changed, and it looks as if the line really leaps around. And it did spike during the recession. But now look at the scale. The difference between now and before the recession is about 0.2 percentage points or so.

That's the increased chance of going from work to unemployment and it's equal to about one extra person in every 500 losing their job.

Is that a lot?

It is certainly less than the proportion of people sometimes reported to fear it. So as bad as job loss can be, are our fears of its likelihood exaggerated? Read on.

Bear in mind that about another 1.5% to 2% leave the workforce to become inactive, as it's called, every three months. This hasn't changed much either, it might even have gone down a smidgen.

So why is unemployment rising? Because here's the other side of the story - the chance of getting into work in the next three months if you are unemployed.


The orange line shows that the chance of finding work in the next three months if you are unemployed is about 20-25%, down from about 25-30%.

The blue line is the first chart rescaled. Together they compare the chance for any individual on average of either getting (orange) or losing (blue) a job.

And that's mostly why things are tougher. It's only partly the small rise in the chance of losing a job - it's more to do with the increased difficulty of finding one.

But see the techie note below*. Note too the seasonal variation.

So if the news says "200 jobs lost at Bloggs Bros and that's recession for you", actually it's not so very different from normal. What's changed is the chance of getting into work again.

Newspaper poster The chance of getting back into work is the problem

This is in part because of a growing working-age population. Normally, extra people in the workforce are soaked up by a rising number of jobs. Not at the moment.

Turn all these percentages into real people and you get another surprise. Because even though the chance of losing a job hasn't changed much, the total number who do leave work for unemployment or inactivity always was huge. It adds up to about four million people coming out of the workforce over the past year.

That is, the flow out of work is far bigger than the extra 175,000 who got stuck in unemployment over the past 12 months.

That's because there are also about four million who flowed back into work. Not enough to soak up the extra workers from a rising population, but still a huge number of people finding jobs.

For some, this immense turnover and flow in both directions might offer hope that unemployment is not necessarily a graveyard. It's experienced by millions every year, in recession or out. For the majority, unemployment is not a destination. This might be another reason to be more concerned about the exceptions.

Job Centre Not enough new jobs are available

Because all this is no comfort if you're one of those who can't find a job or get back into one. And let's remember that these figures are averages. Some people are more likely to lose work than others - those with low educational qualifications for example. And some are less likely to find it than average.

One other little insight from those hazard calculations. The chance of getting into work if you are unemployed goes up and down during the year. There's seasonal fluctuation.

The good news is that the chance looks as if it picks up towards the end of the year. The bad news is that it looks as if it falls again soon after.

The hazard of unemployment is not an official statistic but it is calculated using the Labour Force Survey, which is where much of our official data on unemployment comes from. And there is a new series of experimental statistics that aims to capture labour market flows. You can read about them here, though hazard rates are not included and not routinely published.

*Obscure techie note: The hazard ratios in each direction are proportions of different numbers. That is, if 1% of employed people lose their job, it's 1% of about 29 million. But if 1% of unemployed go into work, that's 1% of about 2.6 million. So the two lines on one chart are not a good way of comparing the total numbers affected, just the chances for one person.

Even so, the change in the chance of finding a job adds up to far more people than the change in the chance of losing one - which is mainly why unemployment is going up. The percentages seem to me fine to compare on the same scale if we think of them simply as meaning the chance that it will happen to any individual on average.

Just imagine 100 unemployed people lined up. About 20 to 25 of them, on average, will be in work in three months. Now think of a hundred employed people lined up. One or two will be unemployed next quarter. That's probably the best way to think of the average risk if you're wondering, "will it happen to me?" Of course, circumstances in different jobs will vary. I've also tried to simplify things by not going into detail about the flows around inactivity, which I don't think affect the main point of the analysis.


More on This Story

In today's Magazine

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    @142 - I too worked as a fixed term employee at JCP, and I know EXACTLY where you're coming from. It's hard work there, but you wouldn't know it by the number of workshy people in better graded positions than I was. I did a good job, yet I was released. I feel sorry for the permanent staff who do work hard, they're tarred with the same brush.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I suspect there will be a big surge in public sector redundancies early next summer. A lot of the public sector spending cuts are being implemented ready for the next financial year from April 2012 onwards - just as the economy is predicted to dip back into recession. It's going to be very tough next year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    I'll agree with the difficulty of finding a Job right now. I'm going to be made redundant next year as the company I work for was taken over and the new owners see us all as disposable. They will no doubt palm off what we do to some low pay site in the back of beyond, yet they seem to express surprise that we aren't 100% grateful when they expect us to be diligent in handing over our jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    At the start of the article it say about 1.5 people losing their jobs through either being sacked, redundency or contract ending, my main concern would be being made redundent because losing a job through sacking is the employees fault and contract ending is the agreed period of work at the start of employment so to me that figure is slashed by two thirds

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Employment is tough, I worked for a few years as a Fixed term appointment with Jobcentreplus. Yet released when at least 95% of perm staff are work shy and consider being proactive a jobsworth. Let people who deserve jobs have and clear out the rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    So it appears the right v left leave and enjoy themselves Meanwhile the people suffer

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    no one cares

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    I'm 46 Have worked since I was 14 (part time) and full time 16 3/4 at pizzeria Was a barman when I was 17! Went to Uni with A Levels.. at 18 with 2 part time jobs! Mum had crash had to leave uni Got a job to save the family home Met a girl or 2 . Later had a family Worked 3 jobs & cared 4 kids cos she ill - 13 yrs ago fell ill - kept working till I can't never had benefits NOW CAN'T GET ANY !

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    ...and employers, both private and public sector, are milking this situation to the fullest. I'm contracted for 32.5 hrs a week and currently work 8am till gone 7pm and take work home...most of us are expected to work way beyond 50hr weeks in the face of fear of losing our jobs.


  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Ur not alone m8 ATOS and the tory's r trying to decimate the benefit system for genuine cases as well as the so called cheats but they hav no morals or sympathy for throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as long as they get the figures down they steamroll everyone and a lot of the time they do not fight back because they do not feel up to it which is usually part of the disability

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    For me, quite likely. I recently lost a job with Cancer Research UK because I "would not fit in". I have Asperger's Syndrome and unfortunately discrimination is a reality. Asperger's has played a part in every job I've lost. I've never lost a job on capability. At the moment the tribunal service claims I am not disabled, which is ridiculous as I have a formal diagnosis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    If you lose your job claim JSA a soon as possible especially if you have worked for the last 2 tax years you should have paid enough contributions to get JSA contributions based. You get this even if your partner is working & housing benefit for low paid, Those who refuse to claim unemployement benefits the treasury loves you - £13 million in unclaimed benefits in 2010/11 and its been your money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Indeed, many people do not want to claim benefits, it is demeaning, However, YOU paid for it in National insurance , so you are only getting back some of what you paid. Has something gone with education, why are so many school leavers unemployable? After decades of Education Experts telling everybody how do do 'education', it must be perfect by now. If not, should we demand their pay back?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    the real unemployed figure is around 10 million, including half of all over-50s under retirement age, most under 17s NEETS, and the odd 2.5 million who ask for benefits. Many people do not bother, and are unemployed fo ever.. 40% of people who work are part-time or contract - no sickness , no holiday pay, no security: Hence, very few people are actually employed and paying tax = deficit

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    #130 "I'd rather eat grass with a bit of sugar than claim benefits."

    You've been brain washed. Nothing wrong with claiming benefits if you fall on hard times through no fault of your own and you have used up your own resources. It may only be for a short time. How are you going to pay mortgage interest or rent, feed and clothe your children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Is it possible that politicians will grasp that letting a million intruders into the country each year might have some effect on jobs?, housing? education? transport? (The government(s) only publish an intruder total that is one-tenth of the actual one. (count all the bits on their website to get the real figure). If they figured out the actual total..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    About 2.62 million people are unemployed. What's the chance of you becoming one of them?

    None, I am self employed, my own business.
    I cannot lose my job, but if it all goes cockeyed then I just wither & die from starvation & cold, but not before the majority of UK polulation does the same!!!

    I'd rather eat grass with a bit of sugar than claim benefits

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    To "1plus2" my business is related to Audio & Video editing. I knew someone who started importing speciality kites. Others who do computer repairs, tree felling (so many Laylandii!), selling toys on eBay, car air-con servicing, alarm systems, document scanning, the possibilities are endless. Think in terms of how to make your business appeal to customers who are trying to cut costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Heres hoping no one loses their jobs but thats wishful thinking all one can hope that the young who never had jobs can get one or we are doomed we need a fresh approach to employment and unemployment but who out here can sort it ??????

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Out of a group of 13 people 8 lost their jobs with the option to reapply for 'restructured posts' eg: 1 person to cover 4 jobs. These were reasonable pay jobs for well educated people. I continue to look for work 5 months later having dug over my lawn for a vegetable patch. Saves money. My son was made redundant and sold his house to buy a business. Am trying to think what I could do on my own.


Page 1 of 8



  • Baby being handed overFraught world

    The legal confusion over UK surrogate births

  • Bad resultsBlame game

    The best excuses to use when exam results don't make the grade

  • Welsh flagDragon's den

    Why Wales will make its own mind up on independence

  • BKS IyengarFlexible guru

    The man who helped bring yoga to the West

  • Police respond to a shooting in Santa MonicaTrigger decision

    What really happens before a police officer fires their gun?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.