The mystery of rising employment

Woman walks past a Job Centre

How can employment appear to be going up and unemployment down when the economy is so flat?

Always one to revel in a statistical mystery, I have dived into today's employment data to see if I can solve the riddle.

The first thing to point out is that the ONS headline on joblessness compares the three months to May with the previous quarter. This shows the number unemployed fell by 65,000. However, employment is highly seasonal, so a far better comparison is with the same period last year. This shows an increase in unemployment of 132,000.

But at first sight, the figures on employment do appear to be more encouraging than one might have expected - an increase of 181,000 on the quarter and, more modestly, an increase of 75,000 year-on-year.

This appears slightly odd since we know how economic growth has basically flat-lined over the last year. Buried within the tables, however, there are some clues as to why this might be.

If one looks at full-time workers one notices an odd thing. Overall, the number of full-time workers has gone up 47,000. Good news.

But the number of employees working full-time has fallen 120,000 and the number of self-employed people working full time has risen by 132,000.

Imagine the scenario: a plumber working for a company is made redundant so decides to set up on his own. As an employee he got paid for every hour he was available for work. As a self-employed person he only gets paid for jobs that he does.

He might describe himself as a full-time self-employed person but a lot of that time may be spent waiting for the phone to ring. His full-time status has not changed but his earnings might well have done.

It is worth pointing out that it is men who are moving out of full-time employment - 161,000 fewer than a year before. Among women the figure has gone up 42,000.

There is also some interesting detail on people who work part time. Among men there has been a significant increase in part-time working, up 3.7%. Among women, however, the proportion has fallen 0.7%. Because more than twice as many women work part time as men, this results in an overall increase in part-time working of just 0.4%.

It is, though, the 4.2% increase in self-employment and 0.6% fall in employment that strikes me as critical in understanding the data. This could be seen as a story of resilience - British workers resolutely refusing to be pushed onto the dole decide to try and make a living on their own.

Only last week I wrote about the youth worker Karen Creed made redundant by Norfolk County Council and now operating as a freelance. Her income has been cut to a third of what it was but she is undoubtedly a full-time self-employed worker.

On the other hand, the employment figures may be lulling us into a false sense of security. We need to know more about what these "full-time self-employed" people are actually doing. It is a worry if a lot of their time is spent waiting for the phone to ring.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

Don't have nightmares - crime is down

Recorded crime is an unsatisfactory measure of crime trends - and improving recording practices will not change this.

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Too many people are being forced off sickness benefits and are not then able to claim any means tested benefits. They are then not included in any figures.

    As the annoying little tele rat says "simples"

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    People who are "instructed" to attend training courses are NOT on the "Counted as unemployed" list as they are "in training"

    A big joke as most of the so called training courses are nothing of the sort.
    One provider attempted to teach my Son how to use the internet and send Email, despite the fact he Graduated from Hull University with a 2:1 in Computer Science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    The roots of the difficulty is that the whole concept is based on an arbitrary idea of a proper job being 40 hrs a week by a man going to work and anything less is inferior. In reality a surgeon may work 1 day a week but probably earns more than most full timers.

    From an official point of view all that should matter is if people are self supporting or need/deserve help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    #55. Tim in Singapore
    #59. Tom Adustus

    The arrogance of those like yourselves who transpose your own experience as part of a technical elite onto everyone else is breathtaking.

    Highly predictable though.

    Perhaps your views will alter if you fail to stay ahead of the competition. Rightwards probably.

    BTW What IS the Tax regime like in Singapore :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    #63. inacasino

    Yes..we know, the Poles work harder for less than the lazy English.

    Are you on the side of the Employer of cheap labour or on the side of people trying to protect their standard of living?

    If we gave up all our public services and majority lived in shanty towns labour would be cheap and people work harder to survive.

    Is that what we want? It is the only way...says Capital


Comments 5 of 70



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.