UK Employment hit record high before coronavirus struck: ONS

Official figures show employment in Britain hit a record high in January before the coronavirus struck, as the country braces for a wave of job losses amid a damaging global recession.
The Office for National Statistics said the number of people in work increased by 184,000 in the three months to January to reach a record high of 33 million, reflecting the strength of the jobs market before the spread of the disease. The employment rate rose to 76.5%, a joint-record high.
Unemployment rose slightly from 3.8% in December to 3.9% in the three months to January, although remained at among the lowest levels since the mid 1970s. Annual wage growth rose to 3.1% in the three months to January, up from 2.9% in December. Excluding bonuses, wage growth slowed modestly to 3.1% from 3.2%.
Economists said the snapshot of the jobs market before the coronavirus spread to Britain represented a “last hurrah” for the country’s jobs market.
“This could be as good as it gets for quite some time,” said Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at the investment company Hargreaves Lansdown. “The figures show the economy was on track at the start of 2020 – with record low unemployment and wages on the rise. But just a few short weeks later we’re watching it come off the rails.”
As the government ramps up efforts to contain the spread of the disease, analysts warned that jobs in pubs, restaurants, hotels and other venues were at most risk, as well as at airlines and shops. Around 15% of workers are self-employed, putting them at high risk from loss of work and inadequate sick pay.
Economists said it was still too early to assess how big the impact on jobs would be from the coronavirus outbreak. Entering the downturn at record levels of employment could help support workers, although steep job losses are expected over the coming months.
John Philpott, director of the Jobs Economist consultancy, said: “This is one of those times when our positive rear mirror view of the labour market offers little comfort given what we anticipate will obviously be a very rocky road ahead.”

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