Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Economics 6/04/2010: QNHS - the figures of despair

Time to take a closer look at the latest data from Quarterly National Household Survey - released a week ago. The focus below is on less recognized trends, so endure the charts...

Chart above shows the dramatic declines in our labour force and an even more dramatic decline of those in the labour force who are currently employed. In effect, unemployment has consumed two years worth of gains in jobs, plus another 3.5 years worth of increases in participation. Overall, we are now back in Q2 2004 when it comes to employment figures.

As a result, unemployment soared, but what we tend to forget in looking at the headline figure is that long term unemployment - lagging ordinary unemployment by some 12 months or more - is now precipitously rising...
Chart above shows that contrary to all the talk about 'bottoming out', the latest fall-off in unemployment recorded in Q4 2009 is seasonally consistent with normal patterns, implying that in all likelihood, unemployment figures will remain on the rise from Q1 2010 on.
Looking at employment changes broken down by occupation, it is clear that the crisis has seen most of jobs destruction focused at the bottom of earnings distribution - in areas that are less skills-intensive. There are, most likely, several reasons for this:
  • Professional and Managerial grades are usually occupied by people with longer on-the-job tenure, making them more expensive to lay off, and more likely to be part owners of businesses and professional practices;
  • Sales and Other are more flexible workforce components, linked closely to internal demand;
  • One interesting change is amongst operative workers. This category includes some construction workers, but in general, it does appear to suggest that exporting sectors growth over 2008 was more likely underpinned by transfer pricing by multinational rather than by real expansion of physical production.
Overall, however, it is worth noting that occupations with greater human capital intensity of production are holding up much much better than those where people are closer substitutes for technology and machinery.

Change in working hours also reveals some interesting features of the changing labour force:
We clearly are having a secondary crisis in terms of under-employment, whereby workers might be retaining jobs, but their hours worked are being cut back dramatically. Percentage of full time jobs has clearly declined, while part-time jobs are on the rise.

And unemployment is becoming a long-term condition for an increasing number of workers:
The numbers are pretty self-explanatory, except that one must add to these figures an observation - long-term unemployed are much harder to shift off the welfare than those in shorter term unemployment. Note that 29,400 long-term unemployed back in 2007 were pretty much unchanged since the beginning of the century. Since then, however, we just added 59,700 more of those who are risking to becoming permanently unemployed into the future.
While unemployment increases (chart above) were the feature of 2008 labour market collapse, job seekers (both in education and outside), underemployment rises and full-time employment fall-off were the main features of of 2009. These are likely to remain dominant in 2010 as well as unemployment reaches deeper into skills distribution over time.

This is confirmed in the following chart:
Notice that S3 and S2 (broader) categories of stressed workers are rising faster through out 2009 than the more narrow unemployed category. Should the positive move in Q4 figures be reversed (see above discussion), there is significant likelihood that these broader categories will continue to increase at a faster pace than simple unemployment measure, further increasing surplus capacity in the economy and putting more income uncertainty onto the shoulders of those still in full-time work.

Returning back to the issue of skills: chart above shows that both in 2008 and 2009 workers with greater human capital attainment were in lower risk of unemployment than those with lower educational attainment. Of course, this is a result of several forces:
  1. Workers with higher educational attainment tend to be more productive in same occupations;
  2. Workers with higher educational attainment tend to have better aptitude;
  3. Workers with higher educational attainment are also more likely to engage in continued up-skilling and on-the-job training;
  4. Workers with higher educational attainment tend to possess more flexible sets of skills;
  5. Workers with higher educational attainment tend to be employed in more competitive and exports-oriented sectors and companies, etc.
All of this, however, suggests that human capital matters even in amidst a wholesale collapse of the labour market experienced in Ireland.
And, as chart above shows, workers with higher human capital attainment are also more likely to be fully engaged in the labour force. Which means two things:
  1. Human capital is an important differentiator in a recession; and
  2. Those currently fuelling longer-term unemployment are more likely to be with lower skills, and thus are more likely to exit labour force and remain outside the labour force for a much longer period of time.
In short, we are now at risk of creating a permanent underclass of under-skilled and under-employed.

And to conclude - two charts on comparisons between Ireland and the rest of EU27:
Participation figures above clearly show that our labour force has experienced a much more dramatic collapse than in any other country in the European Union. At the same time, our unemployment has risen less drmatically:
Which suggests that the gap between us and the worst performing European countries (Spain and the Baltics) masks a much more troubling reality: Irish unemployed are much more likely to drop out of the labour force (and thus out of unemployment counts) than those in other European countries.

This, of course, is a sign of much deeper despair.


Unknown said...

More lies

Unknown said...

Great analysis as usual constantin. But the moving out of the job market in ireland is due to FAS courses and also generous family income supplement which for couples on low incomes means the benefit of collecting the dole is negligable

Seamus said...

Interesting stuff. A few further charts tracking the composition of the labour force by nationality can be seen here.