Strange but true – new statistics published this week by the Office of National Statistics say that unemployment is decreasing.

They also say employment is decreasing.

Now, maths was never my strong point – but something about this doesn’t feel right. How can employment and employment BOTH be shrinking? Surely if you’re not employed, you’re unemployed – and vice versa. No?

Apparently not. See, when you’re a student, you’re not classed as employed OR unemployed. Instead, you’re ‘economically inactive’. This group – which also includes people on long-term sick leave and people who’ve given up looking of a job – has ballooned, the new figures say.

Similarly, if you’re doing part-time work because you can’t find a full-time job, you’re classed as ’employed’.

One expert, David Buik of brokers BGC Partners, told London’s Evening Standard he agreed that the new ONS figures could mask the real fate of 2009’s graduates:

“I always feel that there is a high degree of creative accountancy in these numbers and frankly they look better than they probably are,” he said.

“A huge number of students know that, were they to look for work, they wouldn’t find any so they have extended their student studies.” He also pointed to “a huge number of people in part-time work.”

And I think there may be even more places where struggling graduates are hiding, amongst these ‘good news’ statistics…

If you’re ‘under’-employed (doing a job you’re vastly over qualified for – like bar work or stacking shelves), you’re also ’employed’ too. If you’re doing work experience you won’t be claiming the dole either – because you aren’t eligible to claim the dole – even if the placement is unpaid. (Why? Because you aren’t ‘available for work’.)

So on closer inspection it seems that these figures don’t show that graduate employment problem is ‘fixed’. All they show is that Britain’s young graduates aren’t claiming the dole.


Of particular concern to job market experts is the huge number of so called ‘recession dodging’ graduates. These are those of you who graduated in 2009 and opted to do further study in the hope you could simply avoid the depressed jobs market and join it the following year, when the financial crisis had passed.

But what if your course were to end before the (still sluggish) job market had a chance to bounce back? Back in 2009, this thought was too scary for you to consider. Unfortunately, this far-from-ideal scenario is starting to look like a real possibility.

Experts say they fear graduates’ gravitation back to university last summer means that future problem are being ‘stored up’ for this summer. They fear there could be a serious shortage of graduate jobs come June / July, as the Class of 2010 and the Class of 2009 find themselves competing for work in a still-depressed graduate jobs market.

(If you’re going to be one of them, sharpen your elbows. This is set to be one hell of a bunfight.)

As for these new figures, what are they really all about?

Well, a cynic might suggest that all these numbers really show is that the government has succeeded in its ruthless campaign to keep the unemployment stats as low as possible (by actively encouraging you back into postgraduate studies and into unpaid work experience placements, for example). Their motive? To trick voters into thinking this situation is under control, when it really isn’t.

As I say, this is what a cynic might suggest. I, of course, couldn’t possibly comment.

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