The number of people in work in December to February was 29.698 million — lower than last month's 29.732 million and representing a very slight 2,000 quarter-on-quarter fall — according to today's figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Of course, 2,000 is just a 0.008 per cent drop, and since the margin of error for that change is ±139,000, the quarter could yet turn out to have been one of reasonable jobs growth. But in today's figures, the lack of employment growth, while the economically active population continued to expand, meant that the unemployment level rose by 70,000 — its biggest quarter-on-quarter rise since September to November 2011.
The unemployment rate, which had fallen from 8.4 per cent in late-2011 to 7.7 per cent last quarter, has also begun to rise again, and is now back up to 7.9 per cent.
None of this should come as a big surprise to CoffeeHousers, though. In December — as I noted at the time — the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that the employment level would stay flat in 2013 and unemployment would rise slightly. And the same was true in its new forecasts last month. According to the OBR, we'll have to wait until the next election before the unemployment rate starts to fall again.
But there are some nuggets of good news among today's figures. The number of women in work is up by 54,000, to a record high of 13.811 million. And while part-time employment fell by 62,000, there were 60,000 more full-time workers than in the previous quarter. This means that the total number of hours worked in the economy actually appears to have risen slightly, from 945 million a week last quarter to 948.4 million now (a 0.4 per cent rise).