Whoopee! UK unemployment falls by 49 thousand!

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omen
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Nov 14 2012 11:26
Whoopee! UK unemployment falls by 49 thousand!

So we're all supposed to be cock-a-hoop because UK unemployment has fallen by 49,000 to 2.51 million (7.8% jobless rate). neutral

So, I downloaded the ONS report linked to in the BBC article (the PDF is at that link), searched the PDF for "confidence" (as in "95% confidence interval") which gets me a link to this xls spreadsheet, and row 9 is the one I'm interested in:

ONS wrote:
Unemployment (000s, aged 16+) 2,514 ± 86 -49 ± 90 -110 ± 120

The bold stuff is what I'm interested in: it says from July to September unemployment fell to 2.514 million by 49 thousand, and this is the biggy, plus or minus 90 thousand! So that means it could have fallen by as much as 139 thousand or it could even have risen by 41 thousand!

The error in the data (±90) is bigger than the data itself (49)! In other words: the data is shit. But every fucking three months we're supposed to get either fantastically excited or morbidly depressed by some statistical noise. Well, whoop-dee-fucking-doo! neutral

This same shit was dismantled in 2011 in the Bad Science column of the Guardian.

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Steven.
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Nov 14 2012 11:38

Ha ha, well researched. Of course, the government still plans to cut about half a million more public sector jobs, which puts even 49,000 into context…

omen
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Nov 14 2012 12:08

Yes, but you are forgetting that if the government sacks half a million people, then somehow via the magic of the market half a million jobs will spontaneously spring into existence in the private sector! It's economics 101, stupid! roll eyes Unless those half a million unemployed people stop spending money for some reason, and the private sector starts laying people off to try and maintain profits. But what are the chances of that happening?

Also, I like how everyone in the BBC article is pontificating on the meaning of the figures, despite the fact they are meaningless, my favourite quote being from the Employment Minister: "This is another good set of figures." No it isn't.

The ONS should know better. I had to dig to find the errors in the data (Goldacre's article seems to suggest the error was included in the PDF for the quarter he looked at in 2011, but the link in the article no longer works). Their PDF for this quarter omits it, instead mentioning where to find it on page 26, in a reference that's likely to go over most journalists' heads. And I bet most journalists (or politicians or economists for that matter) didn't get past page 1 or 2, which give an easy to read bullet point summary of the data without even mentioning the possibility of error in the data at all, let alone urging caution in its interpretation, as they should.

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 14 2012 12:12

Plus, people who're excluded from the claimant count: people working part-time who'd like to be working full time; people doing voluntary work/work experience; people on workfare ('in work'); people sanctioned for non-compliance with workfare; people who've run out of contribution-based JSA who are ineligable for means-tested JSA (e.g. those with a partner in work). They cook the stats all sorts of ways in addition to pretending statistical noise is news.

omen
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Nov 14 2012 13:15

With regards to the ONS report's unemployment stats, claimant count doesn't appear to be an issue:

ONS wrote:
Unemployment is measured according to international guidelines specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Unemployed people in the UK are:

  • without a job, have actively sought work in the last four weeks and are available to start work in the next two weeks, or;
  • out of work, have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next two weeks.

People who meet these criteria are classified as unemployed irrespective of whether or not they claim Jobseeker’s Allowance or other benefits. The estimates are derived from the Labour Force Survey and are published for three month average time periods.

[ETA: Note: Cunningly avoids unemployed people who aren't currently seeking work, perhaps because they aren't able.]

They do also measure JSA claimant count, which the report says rose by 10,100, from September to October (during the same quarter unemployment fell 49k!), but I can't find data for errors (yet).

I'm not so sure they're cooking the stats so much as reading the statistical tea leaves. Which is why we get reports of unemployment rising some quarters, with government ministers trawling the reports looking for a positive spin, when they could just as well say "This data is total shit, so I wouldn't pay any attention to it if I were you."

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 14 2012 13:24

Ah, I see. Mind you, if you're on workfare or sanctioned/ineligae for JSA, would you count as 'actively seeking work'? (since sanctions are for failing to comply with job search activity). You're right though, claimant count is a different measure.

omen
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Nov 14 2012 13:37

Just found this video, which explains how the ONS classify people in their report (into: employed, unemployed, inactive):

From 47 seconds:

  • Employed - Someone who does more than one hour paid work. roll eyes
  • Unemployed - Someone not employed but looking and available for work.
  • Inactive - Someone who is neither employed nor unemployed.

So I guess: workfare = unemployed, but sanctioned/ineligible for JSA would depend on if they are looking for work or not or have found work (i.e. any category). Not sure how the ONS would actually classify workfare, mind.

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flaneur
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Nov 14 2012 13:37

Yeah because you're still expected to turn up every week or two.

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Joseph Kay
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Nov 14 2012 13:42

Didn't a court rule that workfare wasn't 'forced labour'? I wonder if that ruling makes it 'paid work'...

omen
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Nov 14 2012 14:26

I can't find anything in the ONS report specifically on workfare, but there are a couple of references like this: "The number of people on government supported training and employment programmes classified as being in employment increased by 22,000 to reach 166,000." and this: "The Government supported training and employment programmes series does not include all people on these programmes; it only includes people engaging in any form of work, work experience or work-related training." Which I guess implies workfare might be included as employment. confused

Also note that much long term unemployment probably isn't included in the unemployment statistics, but lumped into the "inactive" category. Currently 9.07 million (22.6%) people aged 16-64 are classified as inactive, which are broken down as (page 22 of ONS report):

  • Students - 2.23 million
  • Retired - 1.43 million
  • Looking after family/home - 2.32 million
  • Long-term sick - 2.04 million
  • Other - 1.05 million

I wonder how many of these people who could work, if they had any choice in the matter, would like to work? (Note that the BBC report made no mention whatsoever of the economically inactive.)

The definition of unemployment used refers solely to the day-to-day churning of the labour market, which, I guess, are the "useful" unemployed: those workless people who help keep wages down by endlessly competing for jobs. Fuck everyone else. neutral

wojtek
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Nov 14 2012 14:36

http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/huge-numbers-on-workfare-mask...

omen
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Nov 14 2012 14:55

Thanks for that link, wojtek. I'm in a rush now, so I've not read it properly, but a few quick thoughts: that blog seems to take for granted as does everyone else that the data is accurate and useful (it isn't). I'm not sure how accurate the data is for government support and training schemes (couldn't find anything on the error bars), but the 22,000 figure quoted by the blog doesn't necessarily refer to unpaid schemes (the ONS don't distinguish, AFAICT). So from a quick read, that blog post seems to trying to read the statistical tea leaves as well, and in addition misinterprets some of the data.

Not that I necessarily disagree with its general sentiment about the shittyness of workfare and it's increased use. I just don't think any conclusions can be drawn from the data provided by the ONS, except that it is useless data.