Employment is at a record high

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Employment is at a record high. The number of people aged 16 years and over in paid work was 32.8 million in 2019 and was at a record high of 32.9 million in the three months to December 2019. The employment rate – the proportion of people aged 16 to 64 who are in paid work – also reached a record high of 76.5% in the same period. The OBR expects the employment level to increase further over the forecast period, reaching 33.4 million in 2024

The unemployment rate – the proportion of the economically active population (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who are unemployed – was 3.8% in the three months to December 2019, the joint-lowest in over 40 years. The OBR expects the annual unemployment rate to remain at 3.8% in 2020 and 2021, before rising to 4.1% by 2024.

Every nation and region of the UK has higher employment and lower unemployment than in 2010. Wales has seen the largest reduction in its unemployment rate since 2010, of 5.6 percentage points. There are 3.9 million more people in work than in 2010, with over 60% of the increase taking place in UK nations and regions outside London and the South East. Table 1.1 gives national and regional labour market statistics for the three months to December 2019.

Earnings growth remains above inflation. Nominal wage growth (including bonuses) and regular nominal wage growth (excluding bonuses) were 2.9% and 3.2% respectively in the final quarter of 2019. Over the same period, real total pay growth was 1.4% and real regular pay growth was 1.8%. The OBR forecasts average earnings to grow by 3.3% in 2020 and rise to 3.6% in 2021.4 It then expects growth to fall back to 3.1% by 2024.

Rising real wages have helped to support the growth of real household disposable income (RHDI) per head, a measure of living standards. RHDI per head grew by 0.3% in the year to Q3 2019, down from 1.0% in the year to Q2 2019. The OBR expects annual growth in RHDI per head of 0.6% in 2020, before reaching 1.1% by 2024.5

Table 1.1: National and regional employment and unemployment rates (3 months to December 2019)

  Employment rate Unemployment rate
  Actual (1) Difference from UK average (3) Actual (2) Difference from UK average (3)
North East 71.1 -5.4 6.1 2.3
North West 75.9 -0.6 4.2 0.4
Yorkshire & the Humber 73.3 -3.2 4.5 0.7
East Midlands 78.4 1.9 3.6 -0.2
West Midlands             75.5 -1.0 4.4 0.6
East of England 78.6 2.1 3.3 -0.5
London 75.5 -1.0 4.3 0.5
South East 80.0 3.5 3.1 -0.7
South West 80.1 3.6 2.8 -1.0
Wales 74.4 -2.1 2.9 -0.9
Scotland 75.0 -1.5 3.5 -0.3
Northern Ireland 72.4 -4.1 2.4 -1.4
United Kingdom 76.5 0.0 3.8 0.0

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