Jobless rate inches down from 16-year high

LONDON Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:43am BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - The unemployment rate ticked down from a 16-year high in the three months to February, official data showed on Wednesday.

The number of people without a job on the ILO measure fell by 35,000 in the three months to February to 2.650 million, the Office for National Statistics said.

The jobless rate fell to 8.3 percent, compared with forecasts that it would stay at 8.4 percent. Prior to recent months, the rate of 8.4 percent was last equalled in the three months to January 1996.

The number of people claiming jobless benefit rose by 3,600 last month, although this number has been affected by a revision of claimant count statistics back to 2009. Taking the revision into account, the claimant count has now risen for 17 consecutive months.

Average weekly earnings growth including bonuses dipped to 1.1 percent in February versus forecasts for 1.3 percent. That was the lowest since June 2010. Excluding bonuses, pay grew by 1.6 percent in line with forecasts.

The politically sensitive number of young people without a job fell to 1.033 million in the three months to February, taking the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds to 22.2 percent.

The government has been relying on private firms to create enough employment to make up for the estimated 700,000 jobs it is cutting in the public sector as part of its austerity programme, aimed at erasing the country's huge budget deficit over the next five years.

There have been signs of easier times ahead for job seekers. A survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents recruitment agencies, and consultancy KPMG showed last week that the number of vacancies in Britain rose in March at the fastest pace since last July.

However, the labour market remains vulnerable as the economy struggles through a period of patchy recovery.

Mother and baby products retailer Mothercare (MTC.L) is to close another swathe of British stores over the next three years, resulting in up to 750 redundancies.

(Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova and Peter Griffiths)

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