Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Business: The Economy
Unemployment continues to fall
Unemployment has continued to fall in the UK, confirming that a modest economic recovery is continuing.
Unemployment fell by 6,500 to 1.285m in May, with the rate unchanged at 4.5%, based on the number of people claiming benefit.
The broader measure of unemployment favoured by the government, measured in line with standards set by the International Labour Organisation, also fell from 6.3% to 6.2% in the three months to April.
The Office for National Statistics says that the trend is "slightly downwards".
Meanwhile, the number of people in work rose to a record 27.36m, representing 73.4% of the adult population of working age.
Employment Minister Andrew Smith said: "I welcome yet another record in the level of employment of over 27.3 million people - the highest ever recorded - which confirms the continued strength and buoyancy of the labour market.
"It is also good that unemployment is down, both on the ILO measure and on the claimant count."
Lower earnings growth
Even more encouraging for those worried about inflation, average earnings growth slowed from 4.8% to 4.6% in the three months to April.
Some economists have been surprised that with the labour market so tight, average earnings are not rising faster.
But the positive news also weakens pressure on the Bank of England to lower interest rates further.
"Another 6,500 drop in unemployment suggests that a soft landing is well and truly on the cards," said Rob Hayward at Bank America. "This clearly reduces pressure for the Bank of England to ease again."
TUC questions UK record
Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned that the UK's strong employment record is a mirage.
In a report, the TUC's researchers say the real rate of unemployment has been disguised by a cut in "workforce participation rates".
The unions say the UK has adopted an American "hire and fire" mentality, which has damaged the opportunities for job creation.
According to the unions, the French may have a higher unemployment rate, but they also have a far better job creation rate in the 1990s than the UK.
The Netherlands, a "star performer" in terms of job creation, is lauded for its strong welfare system and "social market economy".
Lowest level since 1977
In Scotland, the rate of unemployment fell by 600 to 134,000 - a rate of 5.5%, which is the lowest level since 1977.
The fall in unemployment was welcomed by Iain McMillan, Director of CBI Scotland.
He said: "Although there are areas of Scotland's economy, such as manufacturing industry, which are experiencing very tough times, the unemployment rate is relatively satisfactory."
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