Employment levels highest since records began as wage growth continues to outstrip inflation

19 March 2019

More people in the UK are in work than ever before, as wages grow faster than the cost of living.

Despite Brexit-related uncertainty, the economy continues to provide more work for Brits, as the latest figures show the highest levels of employment on record.

76.1% of working-age people (between 16-64) are now in work. Split between men and women, 80.5% of working age men are in work compared with 71.8% of women.

The figures cover November 2018 to January 2019.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which compiles the figures, says the relative increase in employment rates for women comes as a result of changes to the state pension age from 60 to 65.

32.71 million people are now in employment, up by 473,000 compared to the same period 12 months ago.

The number of job vacancies also remains near record highs. ONS figures show 854,000 unfilled jobs between December 2018 and February 2019, only down slightly from 863,000 between September and November 2018.

Helal Miah investment research analyst at The Share Centre, comments: “Some economists have been suggesting the UK jobs data should begin to show signs of the political climate and slowing economic growth; they will have to wait a little bit longer as this morning’s release showed UK unemployment rate hits 44-year low of 3.9% despite Brexit uncertainty.

“It showed 222,000 more people went into work during January, far more than the expected 130,000 and taking the unemployment rate further lower to just 3.9%, the lowest since 1971 when records began.” 

Wage growth “respectable”

Wages continue to grow above inflation. Before inflation salaries grew on average 3.4% in January. This is down slightly from 3.5% in December.

After inflation, real wages grew by 1.4% on average, according to the ONS.

Pawel Adrjan, UK economist at job site Indeed, comments: “After years of stagnation, average wages are finally rising at a respectable rate. On the recruitment front line, the combination of skills shortages and yet another record high in employment is forcing many employers to ramp up salaries to attract staff.

“While the average worker may notice little difference to their monthly earnings, a lucky few with specialist skills are seeing their pay rise at double-digit rates.

“In sectors where there are long-term shortages of skilled staff, such as dentistry, insurance underwriting and industrial engineering, the battle for talent is morphing into an all-out salary arms race.

“Endemic shortages in these sectors have historically made them reliant on attracting talent from abroad. But with early signs showing that it is becoming harder to lure skilled workers from the EU, that reliance is forcing employers to ramp up salaries at an ever more dizzying rate.”

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