Consumer, pay, jobs in The Monday Briefing
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The global recovery since the financial crisis has not been vigorous. But it has been running for 11 years and it has absorbed a lot of workers. Globally a record 3.3 billion people are in work, 14% more than ten years ago.
The UK is running out of workers. At 4.0% the unemployment rate is at the lowest level since the early 1970s. This is below the rate in historically low-unemployment countries including Sweden, Denmark and Canada. A record 832,000 jobs are unfilled in the UK (two of them in the economics team). The attrition rate, the rate at which people change jobs, has shot up to its highest level since records began in 2001.
Last week the team came across some remarkable data. The Oxford economist Max Roser estimates that in 1820 more than 90% of the world’s population lived in extreme, absolute poverty, defined as living on less than $2 per day in today’s money. By 1981 this had fallen to 44% of the world’s population. Today it stands at less than 10% of the world’s population.
Economists of all stripes would agree that investment and the application of technology drive economic activity. For decades governments around the world have made strenuous efforts to encourage investment and new technologies. Last year this orthodoxy came under fire from an unexpected source.
It would be hard to imagine life without mortgage and consumer credit.
Mortgages have extended home-ownership beyond the ranks of those on high incomes or with large amounts of capital. Credit has helped bring other major purchases, such as a new car or a kitchen, within the reach of most households. For the wider economy there are benefits too, since access to credit helps keep households going when incomes are under pressure.
The summer months tend to be pretty thin for media coverage of economics and finance. Like the rest of us, journalists take their holidays in July and August. Yet economics is no respecter of holidays and events and data have continued to pile up.
Britain’s recent record on growing productivity and wages has been lacklustre. In the UK GDP per hour worked, the main measure of productivity, has risen by just 2.2% since 2010, less than a third the rate seen in Germany.
UK activity has softened since the vote to leave the EU. The UK slowdown has been pronounced, though less severe than widely predicted on the eve of the referendum, and has left the UK slowing into a global recovery.
In the last decade Britain and the US have experienced an unusual combination of soaring asset prices and sluggish wage growth.
Between 2006 and 2016, the total value of assets held by UK households rose by 59% while average incomes increased by just 24%.