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Recession warning from UK vacancies
May 11, 2023 by Simon Ward
UK vacancies – like US job openings – are signalling an employment recession.
A previous post noted that a fall in US job openings of more than 15% from a rolling 12-month high was always (since the 1950s) associated with a multi-month fall in payrolls. The 15% threshold was crossed in February data released last month, with the shortfall increasing to 18% in March.
It turns out that the 15% rule also works in the UK, correctly signalling all eight employment recessions since the 1960s with no false warnings. Recent developments mirror the US: the decline in vacancies from peak crossed 15% in January, rising to 17% in March.
The official vacancies series, based on a survey of employers, starts in 2001. Earlier numbers are available (back to 1960) for vacancies notified to Jobcentres. When the latter series was replaced in 2001, Jobcentre vacancies accounted for about 60% of the total. The analysis here combines the two series, effectively assuming that Jobcentre vacancies were a constant proportion of the total before 2001.
Employment recessions were defined as multi-quarter declines in an average of two series – total employment (from the Labour Force Survey of households) and workforce jobs (based mainly on a survey of employers). The latter series – like US non-farm payrolls – counts positions rather than workers and is about 10% larger, reflecting multiple job holding.
As in the US, the 15% threshold was usually reached around the time that employment started to decline, although this may not have been immediately apparent because of reporting lags and revisions.
A Q1 reading of the total employment series is not yet available but LFS data through February and PAYE employee numbers suggest another rise. Based on the vacancies signal, a sustained decline may begin in Q2.