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Revisioning 'Activity': a critique of the unemployment rate, the EU's Employment Strategy and the divide between paid and unpaid work.

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Revisioning 'Activity': a critique of the unemployment rate, the EU's Employment Strategy and the divide between paid and unpaid work.
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   Monica Threlfall - London Metropolitan University - UK. 1 FORMER WEBSITE PAPER Revisioning 'activity': a critique of the unemployment rate, the EU's Employment Strategy and the divide between paid and unpaid work. Monica Threlfall ***   This is the written-up marginally revised version of a 2003 Guest Lecture to the Department of Political Science and to the Chaire de Recherche du Canada sur la Citoyenné et la Gouvernance , Jane Jenson, at the Université de Montréal, Quebec, while I was a visiting scholar there from Loughborough University. Original title: 'Abolishing The Labour Force, Revisioning Activity, Constitutionalising the Dual Nature Of The Human'. Rather than give a research paper, a will talk about an aspect of my research and outline the theme of current work in progress. I am engaged in a critique of the way the internationally used 'unemployment rate' is calculated, of the EU’s employment strategy, and of the identification of activity as paid work and of unpaid work and care as labour force 'inactivity'. I’ll start with the story of how I moved into this field – perhaps best called the politics of employment – while working on the social and citizenship policies of the EU. In the early 1990s UK conservative political discourse was heavily engaged in a rhetorical battle against the European social model and spent much time talking ***   Reader in European Politics at London Metropolitan University since 2009. M.Threlfall@londonmet.ac.uk   Monica Threlfall - London Metropolitan University - UK. 2 up the UK’s performance, esp. its employment performance. ‘Europe isn’t  working’ was a frequent news headline. As the US Bureau of Labour Statistics says 'Few economic data are as closely watched as measures of employment and unemployment.' (http://www.bls.gov/bls/employment.htm). Conservative government politicians and the Confederation of British Industry often claimed that unemployment was lower in Britain. I knew that it was true that the UK had lower female unemployment than the EU average, but when I looked into it, it became obvious that the UK only  had a lower unemployment rate because there were fewer women  jobseekers – and in fact the UK’ s job-creation performance for men  was worse  than the EU average. Comparing the UK male unemployment rates with those of other EU countries, I discovered (the data is available but had not been analysed) that by separating male from female rates of unemployment as a % of the labour force, it could be established that the UK had consistently had the third worst unemployment rates in the EU until 1997 (only Spain and Ireland had worse rates). This could  be traced back as far as 1977, thus revealing  a 20-year British phenomenon of male unemployment that had not been acknowledged in a comparative context. The Graph below shows the two pairs of trends, EU women and UK women, EU men and UK men, since 1984, with Table 1 giving the exact percentage for each  year.   Monica Threlfall - London Metropolitan University - UK. 3 Table 1. Bucking the trend: UK and EU male and female unemployment rates in figures. "#$% "#$& "#$' "#$( "#$$ "#$# "##) "##" "##* "##+ "##% "##& "##' "##( "#$%&$' ()*+,) $$-. $$-/ $%-0 $1-% $%-2 $%-3 $$-3 $3-/ $$-$ $%-% $1-3 $%-4 $%-4 $%-4 !" $%&'(% )*+* ))+* )*+, )*+- .+/ 0+) /+/ 0+- 0+1 0+0 0+- /+, /+1 2+. "# $%&$' *+,) 0-1 0-4 0-4 0-$ 2-% /-1 .-/ /-$ /-0 0-' $3-% 0-4 0-2 0-. !" &'(% ))+2 ))+. )3+* ))+2 ,+1 0+/ 0+3 ,+- ))+2 )3+- ))+- )*+) ,+0 .+) Source: M.Threlfall, selected data from Eurostat, Labour Force Survey Results, Luxembourg: OOPEC 1985 thru’ 1998, usually table 008.  While doing this I stumbled across another remarkable phenomenon while analysing the Eurostat’s Labour Force Survey results – this time the discovery  was not so much of a political skeleton in the cupboard, but a statistical one:   Monica Threlfall - London Metropolitan University - UK. 4 Graphic . Youth unemployment in France and Britain 1996 FRANCE BRITAIN a) ILO unemployment rate of  persons aged 15-24 as % of ‘actives’ ie labour force 28 % 15 %  b) No. of persons aged 15-24 who are unemployed 712,000 681,000 c) Total No. of population aged 15-24. 7,340,000 7,090,000 d) % of unemployed persons aged 5-25 (proportion of population aged 15-24). 9.7 % 9.6 % REASON FOR UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DIFFERENCES e) Labour market participation rate of 15-24 age group 35.2 % 64.5 % f) No. of persons aged 15-24 who are in education 4,450,000 2,520,000 g) No. of persons aged 15-24 in  paid employment 1,873,000 3,889,000 Source: calculated by M.Threlfall using Eurostat, EULFS results 1996, Luxembourg: OOPEC, 1997, various tables.  What we see here is that a) it looks like the youth unemployment rate in France is very high and nearly twice that of the UK; b) But lo! The number of young people is roughly the same; c) On top of it, the size of the young population is also roughly the same; d) And the percent proportion of the young population is practically identical. How can this be? The French youth unemployment rate only looks higher than Britain's if seen as a proportion of the active labour force, but is the same as Britain's when seen as a % proportion of the population. So what distorts the real meaning of the figures? Row e) shows that the French youth labour force participation rate is  very much lower than Britain's – they are not on the job market, they are 'inactive' either because they are in education and training or because they are   Monica Threlfall - London Metropolitan University - UK. 5 twiddling their thumbs at home. 64% of British youth is out there in the labour market doing one hour a week or more of gainful activity in part-time of full-time jobs. So in which country are young people doing better? Row f) shows that French youth are far from idle, 2 million more  of them are still getting themselves educated and trained than in Britain. The business and political  view is that this is a good thing – young people need to be ever more highly trained. Finally row g) shows that the French economy does not support young people in jobs. Employers are not offering jobs to school leavers and there are far too few part-time jobs in France to absorb the surplus. Good or bad? This is a political judgment and currently the stronger view is that young peope should stay in school longer and more should go to university, so France is doing the right thing. Britain's boast about its lower youth unemployment is hollow. Is it more likely young people will turn to crime or riot in France or the UK? Neither. France should be concerned with its frustrated jobseekers and the UK should be concerned about having too many low educated school leavers. Implications of the calculation of unemployment The unemployment rate is one of the s top 5 macro-economic indicators by  which the temperature of the world’s economic performance is taken – and yet  we see this statistic can be socially quite meaningless, indeed misleading. And given that EU politicians are always involved in patriotic jousting about which country is doing better, calculating the unemployment rate on the basis of the labour force (which also includes the unemployed, by the way) is is a deeply political problem. It tells us how big a slice of the cake unemployment is, but it’s the wrong cake! Population should be the cake, as what is happening to the population is – or should be - of greater social concern to governments.  Why does the world only talk about unemployment as a proportion/slice of the labour force cake? Statistical measurement is gendered – the measurement and understanding of unemployment belongs to the male world of the ‘Labour Force’, the ‘economically active’, for whom the rest do not exist. So labour market 'inactives' are simply left out of the equation as non-workers. Yet when
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