Unemployment in sharpest drop for 11 years

Nope, your eyes do not deceive you - but despite this unexpectedly positive news on joblessness, the picture isn't entirely rosy...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 03 Aug 2011
Good news and bad news on the labour market today: official figures revealed that the number of unemployed people dropped by 88,000 to 2.43 million in the three months to April – the biggest fall since the summer of 2000. Naturally, it was a different story in the the public sector, where the number of jobs fell by 24,000 – but happily, the private sector more than compensated by creating 104,000 new jobs. That will be manna from heaven from the Government, since that's basically what it's banking on in the coming months. However, if you dig a little deeper into the data, there are signs that the Treasury shouldn't start popping champagne corks just yet…

The first complication is provided by the claimant count, i.e. the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, which actually rose during May by 19,600, bringing the total to 1.49 million. That might seem at odds with the drop in unemployment – but it's also more timely, suggesting that the employment situation may actually have worsened since the end of April.

Then there's the rise in the number of people working part-time: that figure rose by 46,000 (about half of that fall in unemployment, then), indicating that people are being forced to plump for the lower hours and salary provided by part-time work because they can’t find anything better or more permanent.

And the other downer is wage growth - which, excluding bonuses, slowed to 2% in the three months to April. That's the lowest year-on-year rise since August. That may be good news for the Bank of England, since it shows that higgher inflation expectations aren't feeding through to wages (which would push up prices, thus increasing inflation, and so on – the dreaded wage-price spiral). But with figures on Tuesday showing that inflation remaines at 4.5%, that means workers will be feeling noticeably poorer than this time last year.

Still, let's count our blessings: any fall in unemployment is a positive sign, and the private sector appears to be doing its bit on the job creation front, as George Osborne hopes (hiring intentions are particularly strong among SMEs, a Manpower survey reported earlier this week). So today's data could be an awful lot worse.

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