Earnings growth, unemployment numbers, the number of people in work. All vital barometers of the UK’s economic picture and the reason why the monthly ONS labour market statistics report never fails to make headline news.
But alongside these well known statistics, there are a few lesser viewed numbers worth keeping an eye on to gain a more nuanced picture of the labour market.
Actual hours worked
As it says on the tin, this estimates the actual number of hours worked in the economy, seasonally adjusted. In May, this hit a new high – above the pre-recession peak.
The employment rate in the UK rose to 71.5 per cent in the three months to July 2012, the highest since the end of 2009. Labour market conditions have been fairly positive in recent months despite the economic slow-down, portraying a much milder picture of the current economic crisis than GDP figures do.
The difference between the promising employment data and the bearish economic figures could be partially explained by the fact that the headline employment data do not capture elements of the labour market such as inactivity rates and forms of non-full labour utilisation, including part-time workers that were not able to find a full-time job (‘involuntary part-time workers’).
According to OECD data, the UK has had a particularly fast upsurge of involuntary part-time workers, rising from 1.5 per cent of all employed people in 2004 – well below the average share for Europe or the OECD – to nearly 4 per cent last year, above both regions. The UK still has a lower proportion of involuntary part-time workers than peripheral European countries including Italy, and lower than Japan, but it is above most continental European countries including France and Germany and it is higher than that of the US.