The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of people in work has increased to 31.84 million in the 3 months to February 2017 which is in an increase of 39,000 on the previous 3 months. The current proportion of people in work (aged 16 to 64 and known as the employment rate) is at a joint record high of 74.6% since comparable records began in 1971.
At 4.7% the rate of unemployment is also at its lowest since 1975 with 1.56 million unemployed people seeking work, down 141,000 from the same time last year.
The total number of hours worked per week across the UK workforce stands at 1.03 billion, which is 13.4 million that the previous 3 months and 17.3 million than a year ago. The increase reflects both the number of people in work and the increased number of average hours worked per week. Employees are working on average 32.4 hours per week - the highest since 2002 - with full time workers at 37.7 hours and part-time workers at 16.3 hours per week in their main job.
Average weekly earnings have increased by 2.3% (2.2% when discounting bonuses) which in real terms (i.e adjusting for inflation) is only an increase of 0.2% (0.1% discounting bonuses) compared to the same period last year.
Average total pay (including bonuses) was up to £509 per week compared to £494 per week a year earlier.
Whilst high levels of employment are good for the economy and good for those people seeking work, the slowing rate of pay increases across the workforce causes concern for the wider economy as household spending decreases as a result. However, low unemployment should be a driver for an increasingly competitive job market as businesses strive to retain and attract the most skilled and qualified workers. It will be interesting to see how things continue to evolve as we delve deeper into Brexit and digest its effect on the overall UK economy.
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