New unemployment figures might show relatively small increases – a 24 000 rise in the total jobless total up from 8.3% to 8.4%, though women continue to be hit hardest making up nearly 80% of the increase. If according to government minister Chris Grayling unemployment is now ‘stabilising’, then the figures mask clear trends reflecting longer-term changes in the labour market.
Firstly, the replacement of full-time ‘core’ employment by part-time work. The ONS statistics show part-time employment rose by 59,000 to 6.6 million and full-time employment fell 50,000 with the number of people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job increased by 110,000 to its highest level since records began in 1992 – the creation of 20 000 new jobs over two years by Britain’s largest part-time employer Tesco, was hailed as a ‘massive confidence boost, for the economy’ (Independent 05/03/12)
Secondly the presence of young people as a (permanent) ‘reserve army’ of labour. Youth unemployment (16-24 year olds) has increased by 18 000 to 1.04 million – representing 22.5% of ‘economically active’ young people. While ministers will point out that 311 000 are full-time students looking for work, the fact remains that over 17% of those not in full-time education are unemployed. If this is added to young people counted as economically inactive (many of these being job seekers who have given up actively looking, then 1 in 3 young people between 16-24 who are not full-time students are not in the workplace.
This month has also seen the release of ONS figures showing unemployment among ‘economically active’ young black males reaching 55% – with the figure for young black women not far behind at 39% (Guardian 10/03/12) While talk about a black ‘underclass’ both unhelpful a certainly a little premature, the concentration of black youth at the bottom of society continues, with African-Caribbean boys continuing to be amongst the worst performers in secondary education and amongst the least likely to attend university (http://educatingafricancaribbeanchildren.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/educating-african-caribbean-boys/)
Meanwhile, if recent outrage about ‘workfare’ – young people on work placements losing their benefits, is to be welcomed; it’s no substitute for concerted campaigns by labour movement organisations, especially trade unions representing education workers, for policies to reduce youth unemployment through public spending increases and job creation. Delegates attending the National Union of Teachers Annual Conference over Easter are due to vote for a motion reaffirming opposition to youth joblessness. But policies must be translated into action if the ‘lost generation’ is to find its way.