Young and jobless: Is the government letting down China’s Generation Z?

32 min listen

Hidden in March’s GDP figures was a shocking statistic – a fifth of Chinese 16 to 24 year olds are out of work. This is a near record high, and the economic background to a fresh wave of disillusionment among China’s young. It has led to the creation of a new meme – you’ve heard of lying flat, but young people are now comparing themselves to a Republican-era literary character, Kong Yiji. On this episode, I’m joined by the journalist Karoline Kan, author of Under Red Skies: The Life and Times of a Chinese Millennial. We talk about the Kong Yiji trend, why prospects are so thin for the most educated

Britain needs more honesty about unemployment

Is low unemployment causing us more problems than we realise? The suggestion might seem absurd, offensive even. It’s reminiscent of the days of Mrs Thatcher’s supposedly ‘cruel’ monetarism, when we had three million unemployed. Some on the fringes liked to argue that unemployment was good for the economy because it made people work harder, being fearful for their jobs. Mass redundancies would not, of course, help the economy now or at any other time. If a million people were to lose their jobs, as happened in the early 1980s, that would be a million households suffering a collapse in the spending power. As well as a human tragedy, it would

The visionary genius of Harold Wilson

‘Our generation owes an apology to the shades of Harold Wilson,’ the polling guru Peter Kellner once told me. Had Wilson not firmly resisted pressure from President Lyndon Johnson to send troops to Vietnam, Kellner and I were both old enough to have fought there. But in 1968 we loftily despised Wilson for twisting and turning to stay out of Vietnam and keep his party together. ‘What are the two worst things about Harold Wilson?’, we asked. ‘His face,’ we replied smugly. Britain has never quite forgiven Wilson for his cleverness. His reputation suffered a catastrophic decline in the immediate aftermath of his premiership. It was partially rescued by Ben

Why wasn’t the furlough scheme wound up sooner?

October’s employment figures, according to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak are ‘testament to the success of the furlough scheme’. The other way of looking at the figures, released this morning, is that they show why the furlough scheme should have been wound up months ago, rather than at the end of September. The number of people on payroll in October rose by 160,000 to 29.3 million in spite of furlough ending. The unemployment rate fell by 0.5 per cent. The employment rate, at 75.4 per cent, is now just 1.1 percentage points lower than it was in the three months leading up to the pandemic. It is astonishing because at the

Is furlough holding back the jobs market?

The latest employment figures, published this morning, confirm a remarkable aspect of the Covid pandemic: that it appears to have caused no more than a little bump in the jobs miracle of the past decade. That is in spite of the economy shrinking by nearly 10 per cent in 2020 — a performance that in the past would have led to millions out of work. In May the unemployment rate fell by 0.3 per cent to 4.7 per cent. By contrast, it reached over 8 per cent during and after the 2008 financial crash. But of course, the unemployment figures don’t tell the whole story — not when we have a

Have unemployment fears subsided?

Over the past few months, each labour market update from the Office for National Statistics has suggested forecasts predicting mass unemployment were wide of the mark. In the three months leading up to February, unemployment was estimated to hover at 4.9 per cent, 0.9 per cent higher than the previous year but down 0.1 per cent from the previous month. Where credit is due is debated – and likely shared. The jobs retention scheme continues to shield five million workers, who cannot yet return to their jobs, from unemployed status. That GDP has not taken anywhere near the same tumble this winter as it did last spring speaks to innovative

Why did unemployment dip as Covid restrictions tightened?

Slowly but surely, forecasts for unemployment in the UK have been revised downwards. Alongside Rishi Sunak’s Budget earlier this month, the Office for Budget Responsibility significantly changed their prediction for peak unemployment: from the 11.9 per cent predicted in the July forecast down to 6.5 per cent. This was spurred on by an extension of the furlough scheme, a growing economic resilience to lockdowns and, of course, the spectacular rollout of the vaccines (over half the adult population has now been vaccinated with at least one dose). But the latest update from the Office for National Statistics, published today, has provided an early surprise. The headline unemployment figure has fallen slightly again: from 5.1

When will unemployment peak?

Unemployment continues to rise. Today’s update from the Office for National Statistics estimates that unemployment in the three months to November hit 5 per cent — that’s an estimated 1.7 million people out of work, a 0.6 per cent rise on the previous quarter.    Not every figure is as positive as the surface data would suggest The gradual climb suggests that the furlough scheme continues to hold off mass redundancies and provides further evidence that England’s second national lockdown didn’t hit as hard as the first. But the unemployment rate is set to worsen before it improves, with more optimistic forecasts estimating a peak of around 6 per cent

The looming Covid unemployment catastrophe

Just how widely is the economic pain from Covid-19 being felt? Still surprisingly little, according to the latest employment figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The absence of an explosion in unemployment goes some way to explaining why the lockdowns and restrictions have been accepted so meekly by the population at large. That said, unemployment is beginning to rise significantly now. There are now 819,000 fewer payroll employees compared with the start of the crisis in February. The employment rate stands at 75.2 per cent, 0.9 per cent down on a year ago, and the unemployment rate is 4.9 per cent, up 1.2 per cent. Still, this is

Britain’s unemployment crisis is closing in

Unemployment is creeping up. For months it remained stagnant, as the combination of the furlough scheme and people keeping out of the jobs market kept the rate deceptively low. But over the past few months, it has started to increase, with today’s labour market overview from the Office for National Statistics revealing a 4.5 per cent unemployment rate — the highest level in three years. There’s a sliver of hope in today’s data, which shows job vacancies are up Still, at first glance you’d expect the unemployment rate to be much worse. After the largest economic contraction in three hundred years, an increase from 3.9 per cent at the start

Why unemployment figures haven’t budged

Look past the headline statistics and you’ll see economic reality starting to infiltrate the labour market. Today’s employment figures from the Office for National Statistics mark very little movement from the previous quarter, with employment at 76.4 per cent (down 0.2 per cent on the previous quarter) and unemployment at 3.9 per cent (unchanged from the previous quarter, still hovering at a record-low level). Yet today also marks the biggest decrease in UK employment for a decade, since May 2009 in the wake of the financial crash. For many workers, being temporarily away from paid work is likely to become permanent How can this be? The official figures from the

Is the jobs cliff-edge fast approaching?

As ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ kickstarts this month – giving customers 50 per cent off their meals (up to £10) at restaurants and pubs that have signed up to the scheme – the centrepiece of the Treasury’s Covid-19 policy package starts to wind down. From this month, employers will be asked to pay a small part of their employees’ wages: 5 per cent now, 10 per cent next month, and 20 per cent in October, before furlough officially comes to an end. A policy that was initially expected to have take-up from 10 per cent of businesses has become the crutch of more than one million businesses across the

Are Britain’s employment figures too good to be true?

Lining up graphs of the UK’s growth figures last week and its employment figures this week, you would struggle to believe the data was from the same decade, let alone the same month. Despite the economy contracting by a quarter in March and April, unemployment figures haven’t budged: 3.9 per cent ending the month of April, unmoved from the quarter before, and more remarkably only up 0.1 per cent from the previous year.  The employment rate remains surprisingly high too: 76.4 per cent, down 0.1 per cent on the previous quarter. Despite the shuttering of the economy, employment and unemployment continue to hover at record highs and lows, like they

Can America’s 2.5 million jobs miracle be replicated in Britain?

The US economy created 2.5 million jobs last month – the biggest monthly jobs gain since records began a century ago, albeit only a partial recovery from the 22 million jobs lost during lockdown. These figures have blown expectations out of the water. Economists were predicting yet more unemployment: the consensus was unemployment reaching 8.3 million, or 20 per cent in May, up from 14.7 per cent in April. Defying the odds, unemployment actually fell to 13 per cent, signalling an unexpectedly early start in the rebounding of the American economy. The biggest winners were workers in hospitality, who made up almost half of the new jobs, followed by construction. ‘This is

Coronavirus has already caused a huge spike in unemployment

In Britain and America, the employment news is grim. Nearly a million Brits – 850,000 more than usual – have applied for Universal Credit in the last fortnight. While in the United States, unemployment has reached an historic high. As of the end of last week, 6.6 million people claimed for out-of-work benefits. This is the highest increase in adjusted seasonal claims on record and is made even more astonishing when you consider that just four weeks ago fewer than 200,000 people applied for jobless benefits.  With every day that goes by, the health implications of Covid-19 are becoming clearer, as are the economic effects. While the Office for National Statistics reports that 27 per cent of UK businesses

Surge in US welfare claims shows the devastating impact of Covid-19

No one has modelled an economic lockdown before: no one knows what to expect. But the daily data is shocking, and points to a huge economic effect. In Britain, nearly 500,000 people applied for welfare (Universal Credit) over the last nine days. In America, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits surged to an unprecedented three million last week.  What has yet to be calculated (but urgently needs to be) is the human cost of all this We simply have not seen anything like this before, not even during the financial crash: the Covid crash has led to 3,283,000 claims – quadruple the previous record-high of around 700,000 in 1982. This

In normal times, the government would be boasting of falling unemployment

At any other time, news that Honda intends to close its Swindon plant in two years’ time with the loss of 3,500 jobs would have been seen for what it is: a tragedy for those affected, their families and businesses it supports. But the story was used by both sides in the Brexit wars to prove their point. Certain Remainers saw it as proof of what leaving the EU will bring, while some Leavers were almost callous in the way they shrugged off the closure. When news like this is being exaggerated for effect, it’s hard to form a clear view of what’s going on. But through the fog, a

Falling unemployment marks another black day for Project Fear

It is another black day for Project Fear. The latest employment figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show yet another fall in unemployment, to 1.36 million or 4 per cent of the adult population. There have never been more people employed in the UK economy, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest since early 1975. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, according to George Osborne’s crystal ball. In May 2016, a month before the referendum, he warned us all that should we vote to leave the EU we could expect unemployment to rise by up to 500,000 within two years. Admittedly, George himself has bagged a

Spain’s lost generation

Spain’s recent economic expansion means little to young Spaniards. Many are angry with the country’s tirelessly corrupt politicians, and are unable to pursue rewarding careers in their own country. Despite three-and-a-half years of GDP growth at one of the fastest rates in the eurozone, Spain still has the second highest unemployment rate in the EU, at 18 per cent. More than 40 per cent of Spaniards aged between 16 and 25 are without jobs, while others struggle on temporary contracts with low salaries — or move abroad to find better work. Does this all mean that Spain suffering is from a ‘lost generation’ of youngsters who are struggling to fulfil

Families under further pressure as earnings growth slows

There’s more doom and gloom for households today as new figures reveal the first decline in real earnings since September 2014. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), earnings growth slowed in the three months to March, at 2.1 per cent, compared to previous data which showed wages, excluding bonuses, grew at 2.2 per cent. This compares to inflation which jumped to 2.7 per cent in April. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 per cent in the three months to March, and is now at its lowest rate since 1975. It was previously 4.7 per cent. It means that 1.54 million people are currently unemployed. While some analysts say that the