Labour Market Statistics, March 2019: Another record breaking month, but more needed on long-term unemployment

Press Releases

19 Mar 2019

Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), comments on the March 2019 release of ONS labour market statistics.

Today’s employment figures, covering the period from November 2018 to January 2019, confirm that the jobs market started the new year much as it ended the last one.  The employment rate has set a new record – breaching 76% for the first time ever – while unemployment has dipped below 4% for the first time since 1974.  This tighter labour market has also fed through into another good month for pay growth (3.4%), with low inflation meaning that ‘real’ pay continues to recover some of the losses of the last decade.

Importantly, the strong labour market is bringing more people into the labour force who were previously out of work but not looking for work – with ‘economic inactivity’ falling sharply in recent months, particularly for parents and for older people.   

This has also been a particularly good month for youth employment.  The overall youth employment rate is now at its highest since 2008 (at 55.5%), while the proportion of young people who are not in full time education or in employment has this month reached its lowest on record – at 13.3%, or fewer than one in seven.

This is all welcome, as there is now very little room for unemployment to fall further and there remain near-record levels of vacancies.  However there remain some significant areas for concern in this month’s figures.  While the recent strong growth in employment has been driven in particular by more young people, older people and parents in work, we have seen virtually no progress in recent years on reducing long-term unemployment or supporting those with long-standing health conditions.

On long-term unemployment, over a quarter of all of those unemployed (350 thousand people) have been so for more than one year – a figure that has not budged since 2016 and remains substantially above where it was in the mid 2000s.  And there remain over two million people out of work due to long-standing health conditions – virtually unchanged since 2013.

Looking ahead, regardless of whether Brexit happens this month, this year or never at all, we can and we must do more to support those furthest from employment to prepare for, find and take up work.


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