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Emmanuel Fikayo

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The good news is policies to make work more flexible are keeping women working, however they still face the struggles that come with going part-time
@GrogsGamut
Mon 26 Aug 2019 19.00 BST
E asily the most positive sign of our economic health is the level of participation.
In July, a record percentage of all adults were in the labour force (either employed or unemployed) – more than during the mining boom.
The big growth has occurred since the end of 2016, a growth so strong that it took the Reserve Bank by surprise and is a driver of the current low wages growth. The figures also show just how greatly the working life for women has changed over the past 40 years.

Since December 2016 the participation rate has risen by 1.5 percentage points to the current record level of 66.1%. That growth is among the fastest two-and-a-half-year rise we have ever experienced – and certainly comparable with that which occurred during the mining boom.

And it means the unemployment rate is higher than it probably would have been, had the participation rate stayed lower.

Last month the head of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe, suggested that such was the impact of the increased participation that if the participation rate had risen by just 0.75% rather than 1.5%, “this would have meant the unemployment rate today would have been well below 5%”.

Just how low it would be is up for conjecture but if we assume that the increase in people entering the labour force were all unemployed then without those people we would be looking at an unemployment rate of around 4.2% instead of the current 5.2%:
Now that is all hypothetical – people enter the labour force for a number of reasons, not the least of all because there are more jobs.
But it does highlight that the employment growth we have had over the past two-and-a-half years would normally have seen unemployment fall by much more than it has.

And that has been a big reason for the employment growth not translating to stronger wages growth.

But the real interesting thing is what has caused the jump in participation – it is mostly women in their 30s and people above 60:
Women aged 25-39 in December 2016 made up 16% of the entire labour force, and yet they accounted for a quarter of the increase since then.

Similarly people aged over 60 made up just 10% of the labour force but they accounted for around another quarter of the increase in the labour force.

In effect half of the participation increase has come from a quarter of the labour force.

What the figures also show is just how changed the working life has become for women.

Women born in the early 1960s largely left the labour from their mid-20s until their early-40s – the so-called “nappy valley” of participation:
By contrast a woman born in 1982 was almost as likely to be in the labour force in her late 20s and 30s as she was in her early 20s.

We are now also somewhat astoundingly entering a period where there is no participation valley at all. Millennial women born in the early 1990s are the first generation where the likelihood of them being in the labour market actually increases as they shift from their early to their late-20s:
We are also seeing a closing of the participation gap between men and women.
It remains wide, but certainly much less than it was for the late baby boomers.

By the time they entered their 30s, men born in 1962 had a 30% higher participation rate than women born in that year.
By contrast men currently in the early 30s have a participation rate just 16% higher:
These Figures Show Just How Much Working Life Has Changed For Women(photo - Business Discussion

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