How you doing? The labour market may be stumbling, but not for everybody

Jake Cordell
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Joey doesn't job share: But it's definitely worth asking how you're doing from the latest swings in jobs and wages
Joey doesn't job share. But it's definitely worth asking how you're doing from the latest swings in employment and wages (Source: Getty)

Economic data out this morning showed that the unemployment rate across the country was 5.1 per cent, wages grew by 1.8 per cent over the year and the number of people in work reached a new record high.

But those are generalisations - the picture differs markedly across sections of the economy.

So who has it best and who are those still struggling to break out of the post-crisis slump?

Read more: Why have jobs and wages started to stutter?

Ask your parents …

You may be hearing about firms trying desperately to snap up young talent to stay relevant in the digital age, but it’s the forty-somethings that are most likely to be bringing home a steady paycheck.

Meanwhile, those under 24 are the more likely than anybody else in the country to be unemployed.

But being ‘unemployed’ isn’t the same as being ‘out of work’ - the former only includes people that are classified as being “economically active” - that means the retired babyboomers and beyond who have long stopped clocking in nine-to-five have the lowest ‘unemployment’ rate of all.

What’s that, boss?

The rise of the self-employed has been long-documented. At first, it was a cause for concern. Workers laid off in the crisis had no choice but to go it alone. That turned to celebration, as the shackles of working for a corporate all day long had been torn off and a new generation of entrepreneurs began sprouting up across the country.

Whatever the reasons, you can’t deny the data - the ranks of the self-employed are still growing faster than the number of employees.

The scales on the above chart are relative, so a steeper curve indicates a faster growth rate - and vice versa.

The global race

As the UK economy put in a strong 2015 and others around the world struggled, Britain attracted workers from all around the world. While the number of Britons in work continued to climb, the number of non-UK citizens working here grew faster.

Once again, the scales are comparable - a steeper line means faster growth.

The price of austerity

As the employment rate shot up after the crisis, it was the private sector that was putting in the extra shifts. Public sector pay freezes and George Osborne’s focus on fiscal consolidation has meant wages for those in the business world has grown markedly faster than in the government sphere.

Nevertheless, public sector workers still take home £501 a week on average - compared to £489 in the private sector.

Building it up

Even in the private sector, however, the picture varies remarkably. The boom in the number of services jobs has been well documented, as restaurants, cafes and hotels have all benefited from improved economic conditions.

But more jobs hasn’t translated into faster pay growth. Wages grew just 1.5 per cent over the last 12 months.

Similarly, manufacturers haven’t been able to make much progress in terms of average wages - climbing just 1.6 per cent in 12 months.

Construction is where the action is. This is where the skills shortage appears to be really biting, with builders taking home an impressive £605 a month on average - 26 per cent more than colleagues in the services sector.

So, if you’re a self-employed construction worker in their forties from somewhere outside the UK - chances are you’ve done pretty well for yourself over the last few years.

City boys and girls - not so much. Your pay slumped by 1.5 per cent over the last 12 months. Fear not though, at £605 a week in average earnings, you match the builders pound-for-pound when it comes to salary.

Whether that will still be true when next month’s jobs stats come out, however, remains to be seen. Last summer, financial services workers were taking home £642 a week compared to just £567 in construction.