The latest employment data will provide economists, politicians and strategists with plenty to chew on.
The headline figure for unemployment jumped by 43,000 to top 2.5 million for the first time since 1996, the number of people in employment fell by 89,000 and the number wanting a job rose again.
But there are certainly positive signs. The claimant count is down by 32,900 and the actual number of hours worked is on the rise.
And one figure that probably won’t get the mention it deserves is that the number of people too discouraged to find a job has dropped to 66,000 after peaking at 78,000 in December. The idea that as the recession bit the number giving up hope of finding a job more than doubled is not a comforting one.
For construction too, the picture is mixed. Having lost 213,000 jobs by the end of 2009 or about 10% of its workforce as we have recorded before, there are tentative signs that the rate of job loss may be easing, if only temporarily.
The latest labour market figures show a slight rise in vacancy rates. And if we delve into rawer data that lies behind the published figures we can see that there has been a significant reversal in the numbers of construction folk on the claimant count.
I have taken a fairly representative group of occupations that should give a fairly reasonable estimate of the number of construction folk within the claimant count. And from this it appears that the number of construction folk signing on has dropped from more than 270,000 to below 250,000. (These figures can only be an approximation as the mix of construction skills cuts across sectors.)
But what is more interesting is that there appears to be fewer people fleeing construction than was the case in the early part of 2009.
The number of people within the occupations I have included as representing construction that recorded any of these occupations as their “usual occupation” had between November 2008 and December 2009 outnumbered those who recorded these as their “sought occupation”. This suggested a move of skills away from the industry.
This trend has been reversed although not among the less skilled. There are certainly far more claimants seeking work as carpenters, plumbers and bricklayers than have recorded these as their usual occupation. And many of the professionals appear to be keener to rejoin construction than was the case a year ago.
It would be wrong to draw too many firm conclusions from this simple analysis, but certainly it does provide some comfort.
However this trend may be accelerating as a result of fewer non-UK nationals within the UK workforce providing relatively more opportunities for those on the claimant count.
The data is patchy on the numbers of overseas workers in construction. But there is some evidence that many Polish workers that make up a large component may be being tempted to return home given the unfavourable exchange rate and better opportunities in the Polish construction market.
And as we all know, the economic turmoil is far from over, so this may be just a temporary respite from job shedding in construction and the economy as a whole.
This week the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development forecast that 500,000 public sector jobs will go over the next five years. I assume they are not counting the now public sector bankers at Lloyds, RBS and Northern Rock that have swelled the public sector workforce.
And we are all too aware that the public spending that has propped up construction will be gradually withdrawn over the next few years.
Certainly history points us to believe that recessions in construction cast a long shadow over the jobs market.