Finally, employment growth and wage gains. But…

As risks to the global economy increase, these cuts are all the more dangerous


Today’s labour market figures mark an abrupt departure from the story over the past few months, with the unemployment fall reversed and renewed gains in all types of employment.

The unemployment rate is now 5.4 per cent, the lowest for seven years. While private sector earnings growth has seemingly ceased to accelerate, it remains around three per cent. Given CPI and RPI inflation around zero and 1 per cent respectively, real earnings growth is at face-value respectable.

All of that said:

  1. it’s about time
  2. many are still missing out and structural changes mean for many others work has become a much harsher ordeal
  3. there is room to do much better, but this is not permitted by government spending cuts
  4. the weakening of the economy remains a threat

The economic recovery has been underway really since the Olympics, most likely motivated by global and domestic monetary stimulus. Since then, the labour market has been characterised by strong employment growth; but much of this has been concentrated in lower quality, more insecure and lower paid work. As is widely recognised, real earnings have seen their most severe decline since records began in Victorian times.

These factors are still far from undone. Most obviously the share of full-time employees (i.e. those not in self-employment or part-time work) remains significantly below pre-crisis rates (click to zoom):

Full-time employees as a share of employment

ONS pay 2

In the second quarter of 2015, 3.1 million were underemployed, up from 2.3 million ahead of the crisis in the same quarter of 2008.

And while there has been a revival in earnings, there is still a long way to go before real earnings even return to pre-crisis levels – let alone to see the steady year-by-year growth that is normally associated with economic growth. In fact, separate ONS figures show real earnings gains now stalled (click to zoom):

ONS pay 1

Moreover, as discussed on many occasions, ultra-low inflation is not a sustainable way to real wage growth, and is indicative of wider risks to the economy.

At a more detailed level, there is evidence of employment gains being disproportionately concentrated in lower-paid industries. For public sector workers, the pain is obviously the most severe.

Nor have job gains been shared evenly across the country. TUC analysis showed that over 2010-2014 employment in London grew by three times a much as in the rest of the country.

But, fundamentally, much of this pain has been unnecessary and as a result there is significant room to do better.

Spending cuts have restrained economic growth by more than anticipated, and as a result many workers remain idle when they want work or stand ready to do more or better work.

The government could – rather, should – act to expand the economy and provide this work. But instead they remain committed to continuing politically-motivated austerity policies, amounting to the most severe spending cuts since the 1920s.

As risks to the global economy increase, these cuts are all the more dangerous. The ultimately very limited gains of recent years are far from secure.

Geoff Tily is a senior economist at the TUC

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3 Responses to “Finally, employment growth and wage gains. But…”

  1. jj

    Bit late are we not LFF, employment has been growing for months, same with wages also.

  2. AlwaysIntegrity

    ‘Real earnings growth is at face level respectable’

    Clearly you are a master of the begrudging understatement!

    Many of your ‘observations’ are simply unjustified negative spin, welcome the success!
    Believe it or not governments, of any hue, don’t just have a set of buttons marked higher pay, higher growth, lower prices, higher productivity, create room to do much better, magic money out of the ether etc.
    We can never return to mass employment in heavy indistry, there has been an increasing number of the self employed and flexible contracts for years and it will continue, sometimes due to unwelcome structural changes but often becuse that is what many people want!

  3. Grace Blakeley

    For more on the economic case for spending in a worrying time for the global economy:

Comments are closed.