Monday, December 06, 2010

How Many Million Unemployables?


Tyler has just attended a rather depressing event hosted by a normally rather upbeat think tank. It was a seminar on a question we've mulled many times - Where will all the new jobs come from?

The correct answer of course is that nobody knows.

Nobody knows because nobody ever knows ahead of time where the new jobs will come from. And as we've blogged before, the best thing government can do to assist is to cut taxes, cut regulation, cut working age welfare and the minimum wage, break up public sector monopolies, decentralise, and cap mass immigration.

And that's pretty well all we can say. Other than reminding people that in the three decades following the invigorating pro-market reforms of St Maggs, our "Sick Man Of Europe" economy managed to throw off its bedclothes and create 6 million new jobs - and that net of 4 million fewer jobs in manufacturing (see this blog).

To be fair, none of today's panel members disagreed with the St Maggs' prescription for private sector jobs growth (well, OK, a couple of panelists weren't keen on welfare cuts). But that's mainly because her prescription wasn't really mentioned at all.

Instead, there was much talk of difficulties with people whose "labour market characteristics" make them unappealing to potential employers.

Labour market characteristics?

Yes, that's things you will know better as motivation, work ethic, and previous employment record. Labour market characteristics turns out to be a euphemism for unemployable. And according to one of the panelists, such characteristics now cripple large swathes of the working age population in the old high unemployment blackspots we've blogged so often.

So how many people are affected? Just how many million unemployables have we now got? We've taken a quick look.

Overall, Britain has 40 million people aged between 16 and 64 (the age band the ONS counts as working age adults). Of those, 11.7 million are not in employment. So that's roughly 70% of the working age population working, and 30% not working.

Fortunately, not all of those 30% are people suffering from labour market characteristics. A big chunk of the younger ones are still in full-time education, and hopefully will find employment in due course. And a big chunk of the older ones either have working partners supporting them, or they're plutocrats who don't need to work.

Stripping out those groups, the hardcore unemployables are among the 5 million people of working age who are entirely dependent on welfare handouts - about 12% of the working age population.

So how many of those 5 million are unemployable?

In truth we don't know. But up until 2008 our economy had experienced the longest period of boom since records began. Between the beginning of 1997 and mid-2008, 2.8 million new jobs were created (net). It's surely reasonable to think that anyone who really wanted a job should have been able to get one.

Indeed, so keen were UK employers to fill those jobs that they actually imported new workers from overseas. Foreign workers flooded in, and as things stand today, 86% of the new jobs created since 1997 are filled by workers born overseas. 86%!

Even at the peak of the boom, we still had 4.3 million working age people dependent on welfare - over 10% of our working age population.

4.3 million apparently unemployable people.

Depressing.

Both for us and for them.

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