April Labour Market Update

What's behind the sharp increases in long-term youth unemployment?

Briefing published on 19 April 2012 by Paul Swinney

This month’s labour market release has brought with it some slightly better news than has been the case in previous months.  Headline unemployment has edged down by 0.1 percentage points, while the employment rate has increased and there has been a rise in the total hours worked.

This suggests that after contracting by 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2011, the economy has picked up in recent months.  But any such improvement is fragile – the number of people working part time because they could not find a full time job is at a record high and there has been a worrying increase in long-term unemployment, especially among younger jobseekers, over the last year.

Sharp increases in long-term youth unemployment

The claimant count data indicates a sharp rise in long-term unemployment over the last year.  Over 350,000 had been on unemployment benefits for more than a year in March 2012, up by nearly 140,000 since last year.

The increase is particularly striking amongst 16 to 24 year olds.  Over the last year the proportion of claimants unemployed for more than a year has almost doubled and is now four times higher than at the start of the recession.  Over 55,000 16 to 24 year olds have been on JSA for more than a year.

Some cities have been hit harder than others

General trends show that long-term youth unemployment is higher in cities with higher claimant rates and less buoyant economies.  In Hull, for example, the youth claimant rate stands at 11 percent; nearly a fifth of these young people have been unemployed for more than a year.  All cities, with the exception of Belfast, have seen a shift towards long-term youth unemployment, with some seeing a more pronounced trend.  From March 2011 to 2012, Sunderland and Middlesbrough have seen the sharpest rises in unemployed 16-24 year olds claiming benefits for more than a year.  A year ago less than 2 percent of young unemployed people in Sunderland had been on benefits for more than a year; today this figure has risen to nearly 16 percent.

Long-term youth claimant rates remain relatively low in more prosperous cities in the South.  Belfast is the only city to have seen almost no increase in the proportion of young claimants staying on benefit for more than a year.

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