Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 10:11 UK

Where the recession has hit hardest

Hugh Pym
By Hugh Pym
Chief economics correspondent

"It's grim down South."

"Middle class recession."

"Recession to hit Britain's white collar workers."

These were all headlines as the downturn began to bite in 2008.

During the banking crisis there was an assumption in many quarters that the financial services sector would pay the heaviest price in lost jobs.

But those assumptions have proved to be misguided - the reality of this recession has been different.

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In many ways, the economic decline this time has been similar to that of the 1980s and 1990s.

Blue collar, manual workers have fared worse than white collar professionals. Manufacturing, not financial services, has been the hardest hit sector for unemployment.

Manufacturing has lost 8.5% of its jobs; finance and business services 3.8%.

There were pronouncements too that this recession would see women emerging as bigger losers than men. But the statistics do not bear this out.

The number of men in work has fallen by 3%, the number of women by 0.8%.

Public sector employment has held up, and women are relatively strongly represented there. So too part-time work, as you can see here.

Hardest hit groups graphic

Unwelcome return

It has been a depressingly familiar experience for regions of the UK where manufacturing has been the traditional heartbeat.

Swathes of factory closures blighted many communities in the 1980s recession. Another run of shut-downs and lay-offs came in the early 1990s.

And now the West Midlands, a proud manufacturing centre dominated by the car industry, has seen its unemployment rate climb to the highest of any UK nation or region.

As world trade plummeted because of the crisis of confidence after the banking collapse, export industries were devastated.

Engineering and the car industry supply chain were as hard hit as any.

The West Midlands found itself reaping the whirlwind of the worst global slump since the 1930s.

Deep-seated problems

Bill Shaw
We were proud to be West Midlands. I was proud it was the hub of industry, that we actually made things and gave things to the world
Bill Shaw, former Corus steel worker

Of the seven local authority areas with the highest claimant count (those claiming Jobseeker's Allowance), four are in the West Midlands.

Wolverhampton and Birmingham both have 8.2% of their workforces claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.

Sandwell and Walsall are not far behind. From other nations and regions, Hull, Blaenau Gwent, and Liverpool also have claimant count rates at or just below 8%.

The stark reality is that the aforementioned areas had relatively high rates of unemployment in the economic boom years.

The recession has simply added to possibly deep-seated problems in these labour markets.

As manufacturing jobs have gone, struggling communities have struggled even more.

Once-proud area

Bill Shaw has worked in the steel industry around Wolverhampton for 40 years.

Luke Parker
I've applied to that many places through job agencies. You just feel like you are going in circles because none of them come back to you
Luke Parker, 20, unemployed

He has been made redundant in the past but had no trouble finding temporary work until another permanent job came along. But not this time.

In February he lost his job with Corus, a classic corporate victim of the worldwide trading downturn.

Apart from days here and there labouring at local markets, Bill has not found work since then.

He has applied for literally hundreds of jobs and often not even had an acknowledgement.

Mr Shaw is finding it hard to come to terms with the lack of skilled work in what was once a leading industrial centre.

"I am quite upset about it. We were proud to be West Midlands. I was proud it was the hub of industry, that we actually made things and gave things to the world."

On young shoulders

At the City of Wolverhampton College, several programmes have been devised to help the jobless.

Demand for courses is said to have been intense. Training programmes for skills like specialist welding are provided for the long-term unemployed.

"I've applied to that many places through job agencies, going to the job centre, constantly on the system looking for jobs," says 20-year-old Luke Parker, one of the trainees.

"You just feel like you are going in circles because none of them come back to you.

"I have filled out that many applications and they tell me they will ring you back tomorrow but you never get a call back."

Young people like Luke have struggled even harder than other age groups during this recession.

The percentage drop in employment amongst 18 to 24-year-olds was almost four times as much as it was for 25 to 49-year-olds.

But experts warn that part of the rise in youth unemployment could be explained by more people opting for higher education. The surveys used to compile the jobless data count students looking for part-time work as unemployed.

Hopeful, still

Both Bill and Luke are hopeful that something will turn up, that economic recovery will bring work opportunities back to the West Midlands.

But it is hard to see where new jobs will come from in a hurry.

Once factories close and manufacturing is scaled back, employers are reluctant to re-invest. Unemployment will continue to rise even after economic growth has resumed.

White collar staff in service industries have certainly suffered in this recession.

But in sheer numbers, blue collar industrial workers have been hit harder by the return of high unemployment. They would be entitled to feel a little sceptical about predictions that this time it was supposed to be different.

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