Jobs figures are key to confidence

At a presentation given in Washington last week by one of the PR firms active on the US political scene, one could not help being struck by the gulf between the official figures and the public mood.

Hilton: Employment figures viewed by the media as an aberration
Hilton: Employment figures viewed by the media as an aberration

The US stock market has recently been hitting new all-time peaks and the consensus in the financial advisory community is there is more to come. The inflows of private investor money into the fund management industry have soared, suggesting they buy the market growth story, and there are signs that the housing market is on the mend.

The growth figures for the economy overall are significantly better than anything seen yet in the UK.

But none of this seems to be getting through to the public. People are asked in polls whether they think it will be easier or harder for them to achieve the standard of living improvements enjoyed by their parents in their working lifetimes. The answers are overwhelmingly negative. Given that Americans still consider their main virtue is optimism, these are startling findings.

The PR professionals believe unemployment is the main reason for the disconnect. The rate of joblessness in America is much higher than here. The crucial fact is that Americans don't really see the growth figures as an indication of economic health; what resonates with them is the state of the jobs market.

Contrast that with the UK where the media, markets and politicians are obsessed with the quarterly growth figures, although history shows that the first stab at this number is usually wrong. The figures for employment, which are far more reliable, are consistently viewed by the media as an aberration.

A Bank of England official was asked on a recent visit to Washington why, given the employment figures were so high, the British were so depressed? The message would seem to be that if the Government wants to improve its standing in the polls it should stop bleating on about austerity and start talking up the fact that more people are in work in the UK than at any time in our history. One would think a Prime Minister who was once a PR man would understand that.

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