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In the current economic climate, there is widespread anxiety about the availability of jobs, and about the ability to maintain a decent standard of living when prices are soaring and incomes are stagnating.

This morning, the Office for National Statistics released its quarterly update on the UK labour market, which provides figures for the period from February to April 2011. Compared with the previous quarter, unemployment has dropped by 88,000 and the number of people working has risen by 80,000. The fall in unemployment was the largest quarterly drop since June-August 2000.

70.6% of those eligible to work were in employment, meaning 29.24 million people had jobs. The unemployment rate was 7.7% (2.43 million people).

Although the unemployment level has fallen, the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has increased by 19,600 to 1.49 million, which is the highest for more than 12 months. The current number of people in work is 333,000 less than when employment levels peaked in May 2008, before the recession hit.

The quarterly drop in unemployment levels was almost completely accounted for by 16 to 24-year-olds – unemployment in this age group was cut by 79,000 to 895,000, which is the lowest figure for two years. However, the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds remained high at 19.3% (more than double the national average).

Average annual earnings increased by 1.8% in the year ending April 2011, with average weekly pay reaching £460. A decrease in bonuses paid by private firms skewed these figures somewhat. Nevertheless, the 1.8% increase remains significantly lower than the 4.5% annual rate of inflation.

The latest data suggests there are some grounds for optimism, but for people struggling to find work or make ends meet on meagre salaries, the outlook may still seem pretty bleak.

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