At last some good statistical news for the Government – unemployment down – employment up – an increase in the number of vacancies.
This boost will be particularly welcomed by both the Chancellor and Prime Minister, as the employment figures are so far proving to be their strongest card in their quest to convince the nation that the UK economy is on a firm footing.
Also, any hint that the nation faces rising unemployment would provide a kicking to the Government’s attempts to stave off the increasingly likely slump in house prices, as unemployment is seen as one of the main triggers for a house price crash.
Not wishing to pour cold water on this rare piece of good news – mind you others are – there are some points in the detail of the figures with relevance to the construction industry.
The firstly point to note is that earlier figures show that (using the workforce jobs measure) the construction industry employed fewer people at the end of 2007 (2,208,000) than it did at the end of 2006 (2,215,000). We really need to wait until the first quarter 2008 figures are out to provide more clarity on whether the recent dip in workforce jobs is just that, a dip, or whether numbers are on the slide.
Still one point to note in the latest batch of labour market figures is that there was an increase in the numbers who have been unemployed for more than two years, up more than 4% on a year earlier.
Further, among males aged 18 to 24 there was a 2.6% increase in the numbers unemployed compared with a year ago. More disturbingly, the increase in those unemployed for two years or more was 51.7%. The unemployment rate among 18 to 24 year old males is running at 13.8%, against 9.9% for their female peers.
The figures show that within the population aged 18 to 24 there are 309,000 males and 192,000 females unemployed.
This should be the most fertile ground for recruitment into an industry such as construction.
And it may once again have to be, as anecdotal evidence suggests that the pool of hard working skilled Eastern Europeans is drying up. This would fit with the international comparison figures published in the latest labour statistics release. The two EU countries leading the league for fastest growing employment are by far Poland and Bulgaria.
And with Germany now running third in the EU jobs growth league, the UK is starting to look relatively less attractive as a foreign destination for Eastern Europeans.
Any thoughts more constructive than dismissing our current crop of 18 to 24 year olds as a bunch of wastrels that could do with a dose of national service?