The bad news in yesterday’s employment stats (and it’s not about migration)

The claim that migrants are disproportionately accessing jobs in Britain compared to workers of UK nationality is based on a simple misreading of the statistics.

Yesterday’s monthly labour market statistics (pdf) from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) were bad news; not disastrous, but bad enough to spark serious concerns about the direction of the UK labour market.

They were particularly disappointing because the previous month’s figures (pdf) had shown what looked like a promising fall in unemployment: the working age unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8%, the first time it had moved outside the range 7.9-8.1% since the spring of 2009.

In contrast the figures for March-May showed the working age unemployment rate rising back to 7.9%.

The very slight numerical fall in unemployment which dominated yesterday’s headlines can be discounted; what is important is the return of the unemployment rate to its earlier value, which means unemployment in the UK has essentially been oscillating around 8% for the last two years.

To avoid confusion, this is the unemployment rate for those aged 16-64: ONS also reports the unemployment rate for all economically active people over 16, which is slightly lower, and to add to the confusion, Eurostat uses a different base again- see below.

To see why this stability of the unemployment rate is worrying, Graph 1 below shows unemployment from 1971 up to yesterday’s figures. We have to go back to the mid 1980s to find a period when unemployment rose and then stabilised at its higher rate for a comparable length of time.

As of the present moment, unemployment in the UK looks frozen: we have yet to see any sign of a downward trajectory.

Graph 1:

This should be a source of concern, not grounds for apocalyptic prophecies. Every recession is different and it remains the case that unemployment rose much less during this recession than was widely expected given the collapse in output.

This month’s downturn may just turn out to be a blip in the downward trend we have been waiting for. But the absence of any real signs of labour market recovery in the UK contrasts with the picture in a number of comparable economies.

The figures in Graph 2 below from Eurostat, which run from June 2010 to April this year, show that the stability of UK unemployment is not a general pheneomenon across wealthy economies. (Note that the population base is different for these figures).

Graph 2:

There were other worrying signals in yesterday’s figures. It is striking that while male unemployment is far lower now than in the early 1990s, at 6.3% compared to a peak of 10.7% in late 1993, female unemployment at 6.1% is only one percentage point lower than it was then.

The long term unemployment rate (24 months or more) has more than doubled since the summer of 2008 and has shown a particularly sharp upward trajectory over the last year. Flows on to Jobseeker’s Allowance have substantially exceeded off-flows since March, in contrast with most months last year.

With all of these negatives to focus on in yesterday’s figures, what did the Daily Mail choose to highlight?

‘Iain Duncan Smith was RIGHT: Foreign workers took three in four new jobs in Britain in the last year’

– Number of foreign men and women in work soars by 334,000 to over 4 million

– British-born workers finding employment in same period rose by only 77,000

Now anyone reading this might be under the impression that only 77,000 ‘British-born’ workers got a job last year, compared to 334,000 ‘foreign workers’. So it’s worth pointing out that even with unemployment remaining stable, some four million people left the claimant count last year, most of them for jobs, and they represent only a fraction of people moving from unemployment into work.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, said:

“It is impossible to look at these figures which show a substantially greater increase in the foreign-born workforce than in the British-born workforce without deducing that there has been a significant impact on the prospects for British workers.

“There is no point in being in denial about this.”

In fact, it is perfectly possible to look at the figures without leaping to any such deduction, and without being ‘in denial’. Table 1 below shows why.

It doesn’t cover the same period as yesterday’s figures because ONS haven’t published the relevant data yet, but it illustrates the importance of a factor which rarely gets mentioned in these contexts, which is economic activity – basically, whether people are in the labour market or not.

Between 2009 and 2010 there was virtually no change in aggregate working age employment – along with a huge amount of turnover within this stable total, as we have seen – but for UK nationals of working age total employment fell by nearly 50,00 and non-UK nationals’ employment increased by 45,000.

Was this because migrants were crowding UK workers out of jobs? Hardly, because economic activity among UK nationals fell 42,000 over the same period. In fact, the change in the balance of UK national and non-UK national employment pretty much corresponded to the change in the numbers of economically active people in each group.

Table 1:

The claim that migrants are disproportionately accessing jobs in the UK labour market compared to workers of UK nationality is based on a simple misreading of the statistics.

Nonetheless, the combination of a stagnant labour market and commentators eager to voice their know-nothing insights at every available opportunity means we can expect to hear these claims with numbing regularity for some time to come, every time the monthly labour market statistics are released.

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59 Responses to “The bad news in yesterday’s employment stats (and it’s not about migration)”

  1. Ed's Talking Balls

    Nothing remotely resembling a rant in my comment. Quite a bit of issue-avoidance and obfuscation in your responses, however.

    I see you’ve heeded my advice to carry on in your haughty manner. Good to see that something at least can permeate that thick skull of yours.

  2. Anon E Mouse

    scandalousbill – We are not discussing ex-pats fella and nor do I remember any riots caused by Brits abroad.

    What’s your answer to the question though: As Labour’s Jack Straw effectively articulated it is not possible to have a conversation with a woman forced to wear a death shroud burqa by her misogynistic husband which results in fragmentation of the community.

    Isn’t that a destruction of community cohesion being unable to speak to a woman who lives locally or even know what she looks like?

    Go on….

  3. Leon Wolfson

    Again, the haters are ignoring our very low percentage of immigrants, are insisting on using absolute figures rather than percentages of employment, are ignoring my proposal for targeted funding, are ignoring the OBR’s point that immigrants are economically positive and the Tory’s exclusion of many skilled workers, hence hitting the economy…

    None of this is new. It’s wilful blindness, where the xenophobia is all that matter. Immigrants, ‘stealing OUR JOBS. *Sigh*

  4. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – Third time you have misrepresented my position today in a typical Labour style smear attempt.

    I suppose since you actually voted for Gordon Brown I shouldn’t be surprised.

    Please tell me why stating a fact that of the 1.7 million jobs taken, 98% went to non UK Nationals is displaying any hatred whatsoever. From an open mouth into a closed mind I believe it’s called.

    It is just stating a fact. The only person not stating facts and lying in a public forum is yourself as you continue to make comments about things I haven’t said.

    My comment was that “hostility” (as you see it) is NOT the reason like minded people live together. And it’s not as you well know…

  5. Leon Wolfson

    Of course your kind of bigotry and hatred, and the licence which it gives like-minded individuals with less personal restraint drives communities to live closely together, far more than would otherwise be the case.

    I have experienced this, personally. I KNOW you’re a xenophobe who keeps on trying to put words I didn’t speak in my mouth in a typical far-right style.

    You are, as usual, misusing a figure to justify yourself. The figure you quote comes from an incorrect headline and you are using a figure of the number jobs which have been added, overall, to the economy and claiming that these are the jobs “taken” (i.e. advertised and recruited).

    Realistically, in 2007 the percentage jobs worked of foreign nationals was 7.4%. Because you’re conflating the figures for foreign-born British nationals into your figures, among other errors. This is very low, just as our percentage of immigrants is low. But that won’t stop the hate.

  6. scandalousbill

    You say:

    I’m not trying to sound racist because I am far from that and whilst playing devils advocate here how about:
    “Social cohesion is wrecked with mass migration to an area. Bradford riots for example.”

    The study by Paul Bagguley and Yasmin Hussain from the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, provides perhaps a more balanced assessment. Their analysis differs quite strongly with your assessment of mass migration caused wreckage of social cohesion.

    “…these ‘riots’ cannot be divorced from a context in which minority ethnic communities were alarmed by the mobilization of neo-fascists such as the British National Party (BNP) and the National Front (NF). The ‘riots’ of 1958 were also related to neo-fascist mobilisations (Fryer, 1984:378; Ramdin, 1987: 206-8). Ethnic minority communities in all the areas where violence erupted have had their lives marked by ongoing, mundane and persistent racism. It is important to note that the signs in some places were clear beforehand. The spread of unrest was linked to an increase in racial violence, the long-standing mistrust and disillusionment with the police, the overt and taunting presence of the BNP and other far-right groups and the entrenched poverty and unemployment which existed within the cities”

    Now, let us look at your use of statistics, namely:

    “Please tell me why stating a fact that of the 1.7 million jobs taken, 98% went to non UK Nationals is displaying any hatred whatsoever. From an open mouth into a closed mind I believe it’s called.

    First of all, the basis for these assertions comes from the ONS Labour Force Survey. This survey is a snapshot of the British Labour force at any one time: it is not cumulative, but a survey of the size of British employment and its composition at one particular time, taken every three months.
    Now the explanatory notes point out, this Survey “is a Survey of private households and excludes people in communal establishments (e.g. hostels, students living in halls of residence) and people who have lived in the UK for less than six months”

    So, the immigrants considered are those whose residency in the UK is of long tern duration. Moreover, it includes all foreign-born workers. This definition could apply to the offspring of expats whose children were born abroad, who are now of working age and who have returned to these shores. It even applies to Boris Johnson (who was born in America).

    Suffice to say that these numbers are static, not cumulative. However, their definition of employment differs widely from this scenario. There is no distinction made between a short term work assignment, (even of one or two weeks duration), and a career position, (even twenty years or more of service.) All the survey indicates is those who happened to be in work at the time the survey was conducted, no more. This process is repeated quarterly to provide the statistics. While the numbers of foreign born workers is roughly constant, the numbers of jobs is not, the turnover could be hundreds or thousands, we do not know, because the survey does not consider this factor. To draw the sweeping generalizations you have made is to misread the evidence provided. Full stop.

    With regard to your question:

    “As Labour’s Jack Straw effectively articulated it is not possible to have a conversation with a woman forced to wear a death shroud burqa by her misogynistic husband which results in fragmentation of the community”

    If I meet a deaf mute, and I cannot sign, I cannot converse. This is not deterioration in social cohesion; it is merely an inability to communicate. If her choice to wear it is hers made freely, then it should be respected. If it has been forced upon her, and she wishes to make her free choice, then she should be supported by law to enjoy a freedom of choice that you and I would have.

    Eds talking Balls, get a life.

  7. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – It is not possible to engage with someone who is clearly lying and smearing in public forums as you continue to be.

    You have no idea of my circumstances – I remember the left claiming Boris Johnson was racist which considering he is married to an Indian is ludicrous and you are displaying the same smearing Derek McBride style tendencies.

    Why do Labour activists and supporters believe it is OK to misrepresent other people’s positions and then falsely criticise them for things they have not said, done or advocate?

    You are a dishonest individual Leon Wolfson and are well suited to involvement with the current incarnation of the Labour Party.

    In time the party will realise the need to have a “New Labour” moment and at that point your type will be well and truly left in the past where you belong…

  8. Anon E Mouse

    scandalousbill – Angels dancing on the head of a pin. Lies, damned lies and statistics.

    1. Let me rephrase. Of the jobs surveyed and reported on 98% were taken by non UK born workers.
    2. A riot is a riot by any other name – you are giving one persons reasons for the “riot” not answering the point I made.
    3. How many “riots” have been carried out by expats?
    4. Are you seriously suggesting any woman in a Western democracy would wear a death shroud burqa by choice without the constraints of male pressure?

    That is bonkers and furthermore I would argue that an inability to communicate does affect community cohesion.

    It would be possible to argue it’s hard to communicate with people who believe woman are not equal and husbands have the right to commit acts of violence against their wives but to be unable to speak to woman because of the wearing of death shroud burqas is simply not justifiable and I’m with Jack Straw and not you I’m afraid fella…

    Are you now saying Jack Straw was wrong with his assertions in the past? Seems to me scandalousbill you’re just arguing for the sake of it as usual but at least I believe you believe what you post and opposite to Leon Wolfson who continues his New Labour smears at every opportunity….

  9. Leon Wolfson

    Mouse – Ah yes, special pleading that YOUR form of xenophobia is acceptable. That YOUR brand of immigrant-bashing isn’t the same as all the others. That someone your personal circumstances make it acceptable for you to preach bigotry.

    I’ve heard it all before.

    1. This is still an outright lie. There remains a vast difference between jobs “taken” – those advertised and started by people, and the number of jobs added to the economy (given job turnover), and the figure is NOT 98% – that was a tabloid headline mis-print, contradicted within the article and ignores the fact it’s counting many British citizens.

    2. Ignoring the evidence I see.
    3. Google it, already. Yes, there have been.

    4. YES! It’s done as a political statement, especially in France. Your utter lack of knowledge about the subject is typical – you’re lashing out blindly in hate, as is typical.

    Oh, and for the readers, since Mouse won’t bother reading this like the other times – I’m not an avatar of the labour party. And I have no use for New Labour.

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