Jun 8 2012

Underemployed?

Statistics on income and living conditions

ONS May 2012

I keep hearing commentators on the radio talking about our ‘weak growth’ and am getting fed up shouting back at them.  For it was only last month that the ONS figures showed the current recession is slightly worse that we thought, with GDP shrinking by 0.3%.  That’s shrinking, not weakly growing, a distinction that seems to be lost on too many broadcasters at the moment.

So while we wait for the Government’s Plan A.5 (it can’t be B because that would imply that Plan A wouldn’t have worked), involving some investment apparently (which is what they said all along but we might have missed that bit), I thought a quick look at employment data would be interesting.

Again, thanks to the ONS, especially their youtube channel.  I thought that there would be a limited market for this, but it does have over 500 subscribers so I am clearly wrong and I can happily recommend it.

The unemployment rate is currently 8.2% and has fallen slightly recently, with employment increasing by 105k based on figures in May 2012.  However there was a 13k reduction in full time jobs and the entire rise in employment resulted from an increase in part-time jobs.

Now we are lucky in the UK to have a minimum wage, so those in work ‘should’ be able to keep above the poverty line.  In the fact the number of people at risk of poverty and in poverty, when defined as having less than 60% of median national household disposal income, has fallen since the recession started in 2008.  However this is because of the dramatic fall in the median household income, not because of any improvement in the circumstances of those who have less than £9000 income a year in their households.

Poverty levels aside, the percentage of people in part-time work who want full-time work is increasing, suggesting that people are taking whatever job they can find, regardless of hours.  In fact, one of the unusual characteristics of this recession has been the fact that unemployment hasn’t skyrocketed in the way it has in past recessions.  Tied to this, there hasn’t been the large increases in home repossessions we saw in the recessions of the early 1990s.  If we are ‘all in it together’ at all, it appears that people are working better with their employers and, much as I hate to say this, banks with their customers, to find more flexible ways to cope.

But coping may be all that some families are doing.  Going back to the poverty figures briefly, the two age groups most at risk are those aged 18-24 and the over 65s.  This can be seen in the table at the top of this blog.  Across most of Europe, women are far more at risk than men, perhaps linked to the fact that they are far more likely to be in part-time work.

The ability to work and earn enough money to support yourself is really a basic human need.  Early in the recession I heard a commentator on the radio talking about structural unemployment in the USA; they said that it was too low and should be a higher figure.  I found this shocking at the time, to think that you could increase the percent of ‘structurally unemployed’ and with a couple of strokes on a keyboard wipe out the hope of any decent future for hundreds of thousands of people.

It’s important to remember that behind every employment statistic is a person; and that every part-time job may be a person moving closer to poverty.

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