Working the numbers
Today's labour market figures for August and September show a disappointing second monthly rise in the claimant count.
That has some analysts suggesting that the "trend has turned" - in other words, that unemployment has stopped falling and may even now start to rise.
It is too soon to make that call, though it is hard to believe we will see further large falls in the unemployment total in the next few months.
However, we shouldn't forget that the labour market news for most of this year has been surprisingly good. Private sector employment has grown at a decent clip for the past six months, and that increase seems to have continued in August and September.
These latest figures show that total employment rose by 178,000 in the three months to August (though, as usual, part-time work made up most of that growth).
That's all very well, you might be thinking, but wasn't that the calm before the storm - a time when the private sector is recovering, but the cuts to public sector employment have yet to hit home?
I've produced that line plenty of times in the past few months. It is probably even true (phew).
But it's worth remembering that the economy has been experiencing plenty of fiscal tightening during this period - tightening that has very little to do with George Osborne.
The primary fiscal deficit - the amount the government has to borrow, excluding the amount it pays on debt interest - is a good measure of whether the government is in expansionary or tightening mode.
Using three month rolling averages, economists at Goldman Sachs have calculate that this measure of borrowing is now 3% of GDP lower than it was 12 months ago. Think the return of VAT to 17.5%, the bank bonus tax, and the new 50p rate.
Some of that fall in the primary deficit is simply due to the fact that inflation has pushed the denominator (nominal GDP) up more than expected. But more than two-thirds of the change seems to be structural. If true, that would suggest that fiscal policy has tightened more in the past year than the coalition is planning to tighten in any single year of its plan.
Of course, this will not be the worst year for public sector job cuts. But 2011 probably won't be either. Given the time lags involved in laying off public sector workers, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is expecting the biggest job cuts to come after 2012.
Overall, the OBR is forecasting that public sector employment will fall by about 500,000 between 2010-2011 and 2014-15, from 5.5 million to about five million. That is a big number. But go back to third quarter of 1991. At that time, public sector employment was just over six million and the economy was still technically in recession.
Over the next four years the public sector lost a whopping 650,000 - rather more than the OBR is expecting now. The total fall between 1991 and 1997 was 850,000. Yet employment overall went up, and we did not feel like we were seeing the end of government as we knew it.
Will this time feel very different? We don't know. But if it does, the explanation will be slower growth. Over the next four years, the OBR forecasts that the economy will grow by 2.6% a year, on average. Private forecasters tend to be more pessimistic. Between 1992 and 1996, growth averaged 3.1% a year - after a much shallower recession than we have just experienced.
The lesson, as ever, is that it is all about the growth, stupid. If Britain has more room to grow than the gloomier economists now expect, the private sector will be able to create more than enough jobs to offset the losses coming for the public sector.
Even that "good" outcome will of course be hugely destabilising for the people concerned and quite likely will cost them financially as well. But the alternative, slow growth path, would be many times worse. Once again, in this debate about growth, there is everything to play for.