In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Statistics and Lampposts XVI: One in Forty

It is not just the departure and destination that matters, but the journey. (Edited: Kevin Dooley)

It is not just the departure and destination that matters, but the journey. (Edited: Kevin Dooley)

Prior to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, John Mann MP (Lab, Bassetlaw) made a startling – and unsourced – assertion: “97% of new jobs are part time or zero hours. Today George Osborne will claim Britain is working.”

The source appears to be a press release from the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The headline boomed: “Only one in every forty new jobs since the recession is for a full-time employee, says TUC”. This was repeated in The Guardian, bearing a passing resemblance to the Labour MP’s claim. The statement should not be uncritically accepted or thoughtlessly dismissed, simply because it comes from the TUC.

The TUC compared the employment levels, found in the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Labour Market Statistics, between Jan-Mar 2008 and Jun-Aug 2014. The number of full-time employees was 19.123m in Jan-Mar 2008, compared to 19.149m in Jun-Aug 2014. Over the same time period, the total employment level went from 29.694m to 30.764m people. Between Jan-Mar 2008 and Jun-Aug 2014, the overall number of full-time employees increased by 26,000, the growth in overall employment was 1.080m. This is how the ‘one in forty’ claim is derived.

Fusing Recession and Recovery

It is a two-point comparison, which can obfuscate underlying trends: the TUC analysis fuses recession and recovery. In the analysis of quantitative information, the journey between the departure and the destination matters.

This shows the employment levels for full-time and part-time workers, broken into employees and the self-employed.

This shows the employment levels for full-time and part-time workers, broken into employees and the self-employed.

The pre-recession peak in total employment occurred in May-Mar 2008, where the total employment stood at 29.749m. At this point, the count of full-time employees was 19.216m. From this peak, total employment hit its trough in Jan-Mar 2010: at 29.013m people. The overall fall was 671,000 people, but the comparative drop in full-time employees was 876,000. Over these two years, the number of part-time employees had steadily risen by 139,000. Full-time self-employment was whittled by 6,000, whilst part-time self-employment grew by 82,000.

It was full-time employees who primarily lost jobs throughout the previous recession. From the trench of Jan-Mar 2010 to Jun-Aug 2014, total employment rose by 1.750m. Comparatively, full-time employment swelled by 902,000. This is over 50% of the total increase, but disproportionately low when related to the 2010 workforce composition.

The TUC’s broader analysis is correct: the percentage of full-time employees as a percentage of the total workforce has fallen from 64.4% to 62.3%; self-employment has surged, as noticed by the ONS; and underemployment – the level of part-time workers who would prefer a full-time job – has coursed upwards.

Knowing Who to Believe

During the Autumn Statement, tax justice blogger Richard Murphy proclaimed: “Osborne claims 85% of all new jobs are full time. The TUC reckons it is 1 in 40. I know who I believe.” The Chancellor said:

85% of the increase in employment over the last year has been in full-time work and 75% since Q1 2010.

George Osborne’s claim included full-time self-employment; the TUC’s press release did not. Mr Osborne’s statement specified it was for over the past year; the TUC’s claim was from Jan-Mar 2008.

Differing departures can provide distinct insights, but it is important not to conflate different claims.

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This entry was posted on December 5, 2014 by in Statistics and tagged , , .
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