Labour Market Statistics, June 2019: No news is good news overall, while employment of older people sets new records

Blog posts

11 Jun 2019

Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson, Institute Director

No news is good news in today’s jobs figures  – with the employment, unemployment and economic inactivity rates all the same as in May, and earnings growth virtually identical.  And given that today’s figures cover the period February to April, when the government was falling apart over Brexit and indicative votes, Ministers will for once be delighted that nothing has changed.  In fact, employment has ticked up ever so slightly in the last few months, to its highest ever level (32.75 million).

 Beneath this headline picture, there’s one big story today and quite a few smaller ones.

The big story is in employment of older people.  Today’s figures set a new record for the number of people aged over 50 in work, rising above 10.5 million for the first time ever.  This is up by over 300 thousand in the last year – accounting for nearly all of the growth in employment overall. This employment growth has been driven in particular by more women in work (which has also set an overall record today).  More than one in four older people are now in work, and older people now account for one third of the workforce – up from a quarter a decade ago. 

We should celebrate these changes, and the opportunities that an older workforce brings.  However we should also recognise some of the challenges – with our research finding that older people often value different things about work, and that employer support is often too narrowly focused.  It’s also important to remember that many more older people want to work and still struggle to find it, with more than one in five of the unemployed aged over 50 – a figure that hasn’t changed in the last year.

Today’s figures are also noteworthy in seeing the continuation of some trends flagged up in previous months’ analysis. 

Headline earnings levels continue to stagnate, in both actual and ‘real’ terms (taking account of inflation).  So while the year-on-year growth remains healthy, unless earnings start rising again soon we can expect to see the annual figures begin to fall back sharply from the autumn.  To put it another way, people may feel better off than a year ago, but they probably don’t feel much better off than they did at Christmas.  For whoever takes over as Prime Minister, addressing this will surely be near the top of their priorities.

Temporary employment has also continued to fall – now reaching its joint lowest ever share of total employment (at just 5.4% of all those in work).  While this is welcome news for workers, it may also in part reflect increasing classification of ‘non-traditional’ work as permanent rather than temporary employment, following changes to tax rules (IR35).  In particular, the number of part time workers who cannot find a full-time job remains more than 200 thousand higher than before the recession (at 933 thousand).

Finally, even with the labour market continuing to tighten, the number of long-term unemployed remains at 350 thousand – well above its levels before the recession, and now accounting for 27% of all unemployed.  With a further 1.8 million economically inactive people who want a job, it is clear that we can still do more to support people to prepare for and find work. 

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.