Britain’s Uneasy Labor Market – The New York Times


Britain’s job market is thriving, and unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975. But this is, technically, only the beginning of the “Brexit” era. The full effects of the country’s increasingly contentious divorce from the European Union are still in the distance.

Data released by Britain’s Office for National Statistics lay bare potential trouble spots. There has been little real growth in wages. The labor market is heavily reliant on foreign workers, who are jittery about their place in Britain after it leaves the European Union. Some are not waiting for the outcome and are seeking to return home.

The recruitment agency Reed says that some businesses questioned in a recent survey of 450 businesses said the number of job applicants from European Union nations had fallen since the referendum. The story is told in numbers published by the Office for National Statistics and Reed on Wednesday:

4.7 percent

The British unemployment rate in the three months leading up to February, the lowest percentage since 1975.

11 percent

Or 3.4 million: the proportion of workers in 2016 who were not British nationals.

7 percent

Or 2.2 million: the estimated number of workers in the 30.3 million-strong British labor force who come from other countries in the European Union.

“Today’s analysis shows the significant impact international migration has on the U.K. labor market. It is particularly important to the wholesale and retail, hospitality, and public administration and health sectors, which employ around 1.5 million non-U. K. nationals.”

— Anna Bodey, a migration analyst for the Office for National Statistics

37 percent

The proportion of non-British workers who are overqualified for their jobs, compared with 15 percent of British citizens.

“Migrants from Eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania are likely to work more hours and earn lower wages than other workers, partly reflecting their numbers in lower-skilled jobs,” Ms. Bodey wrote in the report.

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Construction in the Nine Elms area of London this month.
CreditNeil Hall/Reuters

39,000

The number of jobs added in December 2016, January 2017 and February 2017, compared with those added in the previous three months.

0.1 percent

The increase in average weekly earnings in the three months leading up to February, from the year before, adjusted for inflation. This is the lowest annual growth rate since 2014, when pay fell.

The growth in wages, when not adjusted for price inflation, was 2.3 percent. The falling value of the British pound and the increase in import costs have driven up consumer prices, eroding spending power.

767,000

The number of vacancies in the first quarter of 2017 — the highest on record. Strong demand for workers has helped people shift to full-time employment, the O.N.S. said.

Businesses surveyed by Reed said that Britain’s exit from the European Union could be a boon for British workers, making more jobs available for them. But there is concern that many jobs could be moved outside Britain.

48 percent

The proportion of businesses surveyed by Reed that said Brexit would have a negative impact on the labor market, driving up unemployment. Confidence has improved: That number fell from 70 percent in June 2016.

28 percent

The proportion of businesses in the survey that said they had seen a reduction in job applications from European Union citizens since the referendum on leaving the E.U. This trend could eventually create a shortage of skills in the jobs market, Reed said.

14 percent

The proportion of international migrants who make up the wholesale, retail and hospitality sectors in Britain, which are the most dependent on them.

12 percent

The percentage of international workers in the financial and business services sectors.

The government’s challenge is to create an immigration policy that does not damage industries reliant on migrant labor as it severs ties to the European Union.

James Reed, the chairman of Reed, said in the report accompanying the survey:

“Business leaders are already working hard to counter the potential impact of leaving the E.U., and it’s good to see that so many are optimistic about the future. A lot now hinges on a successful negotiation that works for both Britain and for Europe.”

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Feb. 20 was a day of action to highlight European Union citizens’ and migrant workers’ contribution to Britain’s economy and to call on the government to guarantee their right to remain after “Brexit.”
CreditJack Taylor/Getty Images



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