Time to examine Osborne's "500,000"

Chancellor's claim on job creation is highly misleading.

Writing on the Spectator's Coffee House blog earlier this week, the editor, Fraser Nelson, trumpeted: "George Osborne was right to boast in the Commons that Britain has the second-highest rate of net job creation in the G7." This is highly misleading.

My conclusion is that Nelson and Osborne are playing fast and loose with the truth, as the vast majority of these jobs were created before any of the coalition's economic policies took effect. Furthermore, things are likely to worsen soon, as indicated by the recent increase in both ILO unemployment and the claimant count.

Osborne did make the claim Nelson attributes to him. When parliament was recalled on 11 August, the Chancellor boasted: "Some 500,000 new private-sector jobs have been created in the past 12 months."

And Osborne repeated that claim during questions, insisting that the UK was doing better than the US. This was his answer in response to a question from Michael Meacher:

The British economy is growing and it is the assessment of the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility that it will continue to grow. The growth in the last six months has actually been stronger than in the United States, and half a million jobs have been created in the private sector in the last year.

Later, in the same debate, he repeated the claim in an answer to a question from Geoffrey Clifton-Brown:

Small businesses are, of course, the engine of job creation in our country. As I have said, 500,000 new jobs have been created in the private sector over the last year. That is the second highest rate of job creation in the G7.

Then, he repeated it yet a third time in an answer to a question by Dame Anne Begg.

It's time to examine these claims. Here is the data from the latest release from the ONS (Table 4), which reports employment in the private and public sectors:

It is clear that there has been a growth in private-sector jobs over the past year of over 500,000. The past year, however, refers to the period March 2010 to March 2011. Given the coalition didn't take office until May 2010 -- and its policies would not have taken effect until much longer after that date -- it is entirely disingenuous for the Chancellor to claim credit.

Let's be generous and take the data from June 2010. Here, the number is reduced from 520,000 to 208,000. That wipes out most of the claimed success.

Of course, it takes quite some time for the coalition's policies to feed into measured job creation; being charitable, we could measure the growth from December 2010, which means that only 100,000 private-sector jobs were created. Even less to boast about.

This raises another issue -- we are now in August, not March, so this data is way out of date. Why is that? The data come from the Labour Force Survey, which is a sample of individuals that is collected monthly. (Identical surveys are used in every EU country.) The trouble is, the sample size for the UK survey is so small -- due to underfunding and simple incompetence -- that the ONS feels unable to report monthly.

Instead, it generally pools three months of data together. The result? We find ourselves in the crazy position of comparing unemployment in April to June with unemployment in January to March. This makes analysis of underlying trends difficult, because, each month, a new month is added and another is dropped. This makes the moving average move -- but slowly. Plus, it makes little sense to report private- and public-sector jobs every three months, when it should be reported monthly.

The ONS needs to publish labour market data every month in a timely fashion, just as every other major advanced country does, and if it has to put more resources into it and move to bigger samples, so be it.

Today's data release by Eurostat of unemployment data for July for the EU27 countries plus Norway, the US and Japan illustrates the point. Of the 30 countries, data is available for July for 22 of them. Data up to June is available for a further five -- Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway and Japan. The UK joins Greece and Latvia as the only countries whose latest unemployment data is from May or earlier. How dumb is that?

Data lag or no data lag, Nelson is wrong: Osborne really doesn't have much to boast about on the job-creation front. He is trying to take the credit for jobs that Alastair Darling created.

Let's wait for a few months and reconvene on this one, shall we?

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

Getty
Show Hide image

In your 30s? You missed out on £26,000 and you're not even protesting

The 1980s kids seem resigned to their fate - for now. 

Imagine you’re in your thirties, and you’re renting in a shared house, on roughly the same pay you earned five years ago. Now imagine you have a friend, also in their thirties. This friend owns their own home, gets pay rises every year and has a more generous pension to beat. In fact, they are twice as rich as you. 

When you try to talk about how worried you are about your financial situation, the friend shrugs and says: “I was in that situation too.”

Un-friend, right? But this is, in fact, reality. A study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that Brits in their early thirties have a median wealth of £27,000. But ten years ago, a thirty something had £53,000. In other words, that unbearable friend is just someone exactly the same as you, who is now in their forties. 

Not only do Brits born in the early 1980s have half the wealth they would have had if they were born in the 1970s, but they are the first generation to be in this position since World War II.  According to the IFS study, each cohort has got progressively richer. But then, just as the 1980s kids were reaching adulthood, a couple of things happened at once.

House prices raced ahead of wages. Employers made pensions less generous. And, at the crucial point that the 1980s kids were finding their feet in the jobs market, the recession struck. The 1980s kids didn’t manage to buy homes in time to take advantage of low mortgage rates. Instead, they are stuck paying increasing amounts of rent. 

If the wealth distribution between someone in their 30s and someone in their 40s is stark, this is only the starting point in intergenerational inequality. The IFS expects pensioners’ incomes to race ahead of workers in the coming decade. 

So why, given this unprecedented reversal in fortunes, are Brits in their early thirties not marching in the streets? Why are they not burning tyres outside the Treasury while shouting: “Give us out £26k back?” 

The obvious fact that no one is going to be protesting their granny’s good fortune aside, it seems one reason for the 1980s kids’ resignation is they are still in denial. One thirty something wrote to The Staggers that the idea of being able to buy a house had become too abstract to worry about. Instead:

“You just try and get through this month and then worry about next month, which is probably self-defeating, but I think it's quite tough to get in the mindset that you're going to put something by so maybe in 10 years you can buy a shoebox a two-hour train ride from where you actually want to be.”

Another reflected that “people keep saying ‘something will turn up’”.

The Staggers turned to our resident thirty something, Yo Zushi, for his thoughts. He agreed with the IFS analysis that the recession mattered:

"We were spoiled by an artificially inflated balloon of cheap credit and growing up was something you did… later. Then the crash came in 2007-2008, and it became something we couldn’t afford to do. 

I would have got round to becoming comfortably off, I tell myself, had I been given another ten years of amoral capitalist boom to do so. Many of those who were born in the early 1970s drifted along, took a nap and woke up in possession of a house, all mod cons and a decent-paying job. But we slightly younger Gen X-ers followed in their slipstream and somehow fell off the edge. Oh well. "

Will the inertia of the1980s kids last? Perhaps – but Zushi sees in the support for Jeremy Corbyn, a swell of feeling at last. “Our lack of access to the life we were promised in our teens has woken many of us up to why things suck. That’s a good thing. 

“And now we have Corbyn to help sort it all out. That’s not meant sarcastically – I really think he’ll do it.”