Unemployment in the West Midlands rose by almost 16,000 in the three-month period to March, and a quarter of under 24s in the region are out of work, data released by the Government has revealed.
The headline jobless rate showed that 253,121 people were unemployed in the region between January and March, painting a gloomy economic picture with more than nine per cent of the population out of work.
The total is a month-by-month increase of 914 on February’s number and a 6.6 per cent jump on the last quarterly figures from October to December 2012.
The number of people in work fell by 32,000, while those inactive economically, such as the retired or on long-term sick, was up by 21,000 during the first quarter of 2013.
The number of women out of work in the West Midlands was the highest since records began 20 years ago at 117,000 and the female unemployment rate at 9.25 per cent was the highest since the three months to June 1993.
There were 2,000 more men out of work (136,000) and 14,000 more women looking for a job.
Unemployment in the 16 to 24-year-olds age group grew by 11,000 – a rise of 13.2 per cent, the third highest rise after Northern Ireland and London. More than 24 per cent of young people under the age of 24 are now without a job in the West Midlands.
Wolverhampton has the fifth highest rate in the UK for the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance with 7.8 per cent of the population claiming the benefit, with Sandwell 10th at 7.1 per cent and Birmingham 12th at seven per cent.Business leaders said the region’s rise in jobless figures underlined an urgent need for businesses to look at exporting.
Steve Brittan, president of Birmingham Chamber, said: “It is unacceptable that our region is so high in the jobless league table and it underlines that SMEs are still finding it difficult to take on new employees.
“One of the main reasons is the burden of red tape, especially those regulations which surround employment. Some of the laws on this issue need to be eased, especially in making it easier for companies to shed staff should fortunes take a turn for the worst.
“However, Government also needs to give businesses the confidence to grow and export.”
Nationally, unemployment increased by 15,000 to 2.52 million, while total pay growth fell to its lowest level in four years.
It is the third quarterly increase in a row in the jobless total. Minister for Employment Mark Hoban said: “Whilst there has been a disappointing increase in the headline rate of unemployment, we shouldn’t forget the progress we are making.
“We are not complacent. To win the global race we need to do all that we can to help people achieve their aspiration to look after themselves and their families.”
Market expert Howard Archer, of IHS Global Insight, said it was a “mixed” picture, adding that he expected unemployment to rise modestly over the year. He said: “Earnings growth remains extremely weak, which is hitting consumers’ purchasing power appreciably especially as consumer price inflation has moved back up to 2.8 per cent. While the economy has recently shown welcome signs of improvement, a serious concern for growth prospects is that consumer spending will be held back by low earnings and softer employment.”