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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 18:01 GMT
Unemployment: UK leads the pack
Evan Davis

Unemployment rose for the third consecutive month in December, although the rise was small.

The number out of work and claiming benefit rose by 3,200 - the third consecutive month it has increased.

International Unemployment
UK: 5.1%
USA: 5.4%
Japan: 5.4%
Canada: 7.3%
Germany: 8.0%
France: 9.1%
Italy: 9.3%
Source: OECD (October 2001)
On the internationally recognised measure of unemployment, the rate of joblessness in the UK is now 5.1%.

But it also emerged today that that rate of unemployment is now the lowest of any of the big industrial nations, for the first time in a generation.

Manufacturing under pressure

It's hard to know whether to greet the rise in unemployment with gloom because any job losses are bad news. Or to greet the figures with relief, because so far they have not been as bad as expected.

Japanese unemployment is now higher than in the UK
Japanese unemployment is now higher than in the UK
The truth is that the jobless total tends to have a delayed reaction to the wider economy, and unemployment will continue to grow.

It's also true, that manufacturing jobs are being lost at a rapid rate, even services are struggling. Most of the good news on jobs is in growth of employment in public services and in education and health.

Britain stands out

But in one important sense, today is a momentous one in Britain's unemployment history.

For the first time since 1966, on the best comparable figures drawn up by the official group, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, Britain's latest unemployment rate is the lowest of all the large industrial countries.

Japan and the US have become accustomed to enjoying far lower unemployment than the UK, but the economic slowdown has been so severe in those countries, they have now passed Britain.

And in the rest of Europe, France, Germany and Italy all have many more unemployed than in the UK.

While some smaller European countries have lower unemployment, overall unemployment in the twelve countries of the eurozone is 8.5%, compared to 5.1% in the UK.

Of course, that other countries unemployment is rising faster than ours may not be much consolation to anyone here, whose job is going, or about to go.

Whatever Britain's performance relative to other countries, the number out of work is expected to continue rising as the slowdown late last year works its way through the labour market.

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