The latest regional labour force survey which came out this week, provides some interesting data on the Welsh economy and on the surface, it would seem that there is only encouraging news this month in terms of employment, unemployment and economic inactivity. 

First of all, if we examine employment (which consists of employees, self-employed people, unpaid family workers and people on government-supported training and employment programmes), there are now 1.531 million people in employment in Wales, the highest number since records began. 

This equates to 203,000 more people in employment than at the height of the 2009 economic recession.

And we are performing better than any other part of the UK. Over the year Oct-Dec 2018-2019, the region with the largest increase in the employment rate was Wales at 3.7 per cent, followed by Northern Ireland (1.7 per cent). 

As a  result, Wales now has the fourth best employment rate in the UK and has experienced the second largest decrease in unemployment over the year (1.0 percentage point). Indeed, there are now only 64,000 unemployed people in Wales (or a rate of 4.1 per cent) as compared to a high of 145,000 in 2011 (a rate of 9.7 per cent).

In overall terms, 117,000 men have gained employment as opposed to 86,000 women since the recession, with the growth in male employment being higher (16.9 per cent vs 13,4 per cent).

Examining the yearly labour force data (which goes to Sept 208) also throws up some important findings. In September 2018, 71.8 per cent of the workers (1,029 million people) were full time as compared to 73 per cent in September 2009. Full-timers made up 57.5 per cent of the increase in employment between Sept 2009-2018, which is considerably less than for the UK as a whole for the same period (76 per cent). 

Whilst the proportion of men in full time employment has decreased from 86.3 per cent in 2009 to 85.0 per cent in 2018, the proportion of women in full time employment has stayed the same (56.9 per cent). 

This does not suggest Wales is a part-time economy but having lower numbers of full time workers will no doubt affect economic growth relative to the rest of the UK regardless of the impressive increase in overall employment.

Given the trend towards greater freelancing in the economy, it is not surprising that the proportion of those who are self-employed has increased from 13.2 per cent in Sept 2009 to 14.4 per cent in Sept 2018, with women showing a larger proportional increase in participation than men. This is slightly lower than self-employment for the UK (14.8 per cent). There are various reasons for this, as this blog has pointed out in several articles, but given the increasing importance of this part of the economy, there must clear policies to support its further development and especially those who are working for themselves.

Not surprisingly, the number of hours worked in the economy has gone up from 41.6 million in 2009 to 45.11 million in 2018. With the UK having 1.04 billion hours per week, Wales is working 3.9 million less hours per week than we should by share of UK employment. This is an interesting fact given that Wales has the worst productivity record of any part of the UK and certainly needs greater analysis to determine why this is the case and, more importantly, in which sectors those hours are being worked.

The average number of hours worked (31.4 hours) has stayed the same for all workers and for full-time workers (36.6 hours) although there has been an small increase for part time workers from 15.8 hours in 2009 to 16.5 hours in 2018. Workers in Wales (all employees, full-time, part time) work fewer hours than for the UK as a whole).

The profile for the usual hours of work  between October 2017 and 2018 shows that over 70 per cent of people work more than 31 hours every week with 17.9 per cent working over 45 hours (predominantly men) and and only a very small proportion (1.6 per cent) work less than six hours.

In terms of economic inactivity, the region with the largest decrease in the economic inactivity rate estimate was Wales at 3.2 per cent, followed by Northern Ireland at 1.6 percentage points. In addition, the proportion of those who want a job has fallen by 9,000 over the year (a drop of 8.2 per cent).

Therefore, as we approach leaving the European Union, this seems on the surface as if the Welsh economy is more resilient than many would first think, especially in terms of employment. 

However, it remains a key concern that those be employed should have the right skills for the challenges of the future, especially if the productivity of the nation - which remains the worse in the UK - is to improve significantly over the next few years.

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