Yesterday the Department for Work and Pensions briefed the press about tomorrow’s unemployment figures and dished out a set of slides about “The current position in the UK labour market.” Unfortunately, these aren’t available on the DWP website, but you can see them here and I’m struck by how carefully they have to be read.
For one thing, there’s a summary that starts with the claim:
Some improvement since May 2010 – employment up 250,000
That’s a very pointed date, which sent me back to the statistics. The claim is very nearly true (the increase is 243,000), but only if you use the seasonally unadjusted data. Given that the comparison is between figures for Apr-Jun 2010 and Nov-Jan 2012, you’ll get a clearer idea of the change if you use the seasonally adjusted figures, in which case the increase is 101,000. Even then, you really need to bear in mind the fact that the adult population is growing and we need bigger increases than these to maintain constant employment rates; since May 2010 the employment rate has fallen from 58.2 to 57.8 per cent (seasonally adjusted) or from 58.1 to 57.9 per cent (not seasonally adjusted).
Further down the summary slide is an old DWP chestnut:
Private sector employment up 635,000 since 2010, outstripping 380,000 fall in public sector over the same period
Again, strictly speaking this is right, but the implication that this is the result of the government’s successful policies is again very misleading. Let’s look at the figures:
So yes, there have been 634,000 new private sector jobs and 381,000 public sector jobs lost since March 2010 but very nearly half those extra private sector jobs were created in the second quarter of 2010. This is too soon after the election of the coalition government for them to claim any credit and since then more public sector jobs have been lost than private sector jobs created. (At the time of the last election the labour market was benefiting from a strong recovery – it’s impossible to get a hearing for this at present, but it is true nonetheless.)
Then there’s the slide on women’s labour market experiences, claiming:
Compared to this time last year there are more women in employment, with the rate flat. But unemployment has also risen because more women are joining the labour force from inactivity.
As I pointed out last month, this is almost certainly because the ‘working age’ statistics include some women who are over retirement age but the raising of the State Pension Age is gradually reducing this proportion. The drop in economic inactivity for women will continue for quite some time because the rise in the SPA is going to be a protracted process. I won’t labour the point – Channel 4′s Fact Check and the IPPR have more detail, rubbishing Chris Grayling’s attempt to spin the data:
‘I think we are seeing more stay-at-home mums saying, “I think I’ll look for a part-time job”.’
Finally, the DWP claim that once you take the growth in full-time education into account,
youth unemployment is lower than after the 1980s and 1990s recessions
isn’t misleading, but it is dangerously complacent. The growth in educational participation is one of the most positive developments in the past 30 years, but the flip side of that is that we should pay attention to the people who don’t have a positive outcome, the people who aren’t in education or training and don’t have a job either:
Yes, things aren’t as bad as they were in 1992, but one 16 – 24 year-old in five doesn’t have a job and isn’t in full-time education and the trend is in the wrong direction. This is not the time for the DWP to be pooh-poohing concerns about what’s happening to young people.