Regular and sustained progress is always at risk of becoming unremarkable. That has certainly happened with the continued growth in jobs and falls in unemployment over recent years – the jobs ‘miracle’ has become as disregarded as powered flight, once a breathtaking wonder and now a mundanity.
History should teach us that such economic good news is not something that can be taken for granted, but it often is, nonetheless.
It’s perfectly reasonable, once unemployment is no longer the biggest and most pressing issue, for the discussion to move onto raising the quality of jobs. In some quarters of British politics, however, that discussion has become malformed – developing into an argument that actively scorns news of jobs because they aren’t all of the highest quality, or paying great wages.
Everyone wants work to become more secure and better rewarded, obviously, but it’s a weird mindset that suggests that without such improvements work is actively a bad thing. This can produce peculiar leaps of unreason: activists pooh-poohing the job-killing risks of excessive taxation, for example, on the basis that the jobs in question aren’t very good. At their worst, advocates of such a position start to sound like they would rather people had no jobs than had jobs which these observers deem to be imperfect – a case that one might imagine is easier to make when you’re thinking about destroying someone else’s job than your own.
Of course, the best answer to such criticisms would be to puncture them by successfully addressing the issue of wages.
The jobless rate is at its lowest since the mid-1970s, and today the ONS reports that as well as record numbers of people in work there are also record numbers of job vacancies. It seems the UK is somewhere close to full employment – a remarkable thing in itself, and a condition which could help to increase wages. Despite the continued drag of the productivity problem, wage growth went up last quarter to 2.9 per cent.
A fall in net immigration, including from the EU, likely won’t have hurt that trend. Indeed, readers might recall that back in April 2016, as part of a mini-series titled “The Rewards of Leave”, Paul explored the possibility that we would see lower immigration contribute to a rise in wages, at least for some workers in less well-paid jobs. While some Remain campaigners argued at the time that that would be a bad thing, I doubt many workers will be unhappy if it is indeed coming to pass.