Letter from the Associate Editor: If these are the good times, then why don't they feel like them?


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The Independent Online

Does it feel like a boom to you? The number of people in employment is back to where it was in 2008, before the longest recession in modern history. The UK is enjoying the fastest economic growth of any major developed economy, at 3.2 per cent this year. At record rates, unemployment is falling, employment is rising, and mostly in  proper  jobs – permanent, full-time work rather than the temporary and part-time jobs many were forced into earlier in the recovery.

Well, for most, certainly outside London, the feel-good factor is absent. It is easy to see why – wages have suffered the longest squeeze in a century or more. And yet that has at least one good side – it is the very cause of the jobs boom. Though economists argue endlessly about it, what is accepted by most is that the “real wage” – adjusting for inflation – is the main factor in the level of employment: Cheaper labour means more jobs. And the real wage has been slashed in the last few years as pay settlements have lagged behind price rises. The NHS workers striking yesterday for higher pay were the latest group to protest about living standards.  Though it may be little comfort to them, the truth is that pay restraint has saved and generated jobs. So in Britain – in contrast to ,say, France - the pain of the recession  was more fairly shared, and now the benefits of the recovery are not confined to a few lucky enough to have hung onto their jobs. Miserable pay rises have reduced the number of fellow citizens suffering the more serous misery of joblessness. Something to be proud of, I would have thought.