Millennials and Gen Z won’t answer the phone so the U.K. has had to change how it measures unemployment

The UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) has faced challenges in accurately measuring employment, unemployment, and economic inactivity. In response to decreasing response rates in their traditional labor force survey, which rendered the results unreliable, the ONS introduced experimental statistics. Interestingly, the decline in response rates can be attributed to the busy lifestyles of Millennials and Generation Z individuals. According to Darren Morgan, the ONS's director of economic statistics production and analysis, it has become increasingly difficult to reach individuals in their 30s and below due to the multitude of choices and connectivity available today.

To address this issue, the ONS has shifted its methodology and now utilizes workers' income tax data and "claimant count" figures (individuals claiming unemployment-related social security) as alternative sources of information on job status. However, the change in survey method and its subsequent results have posed challenges for the Bank of England, which relies on labor market data to inform its monetary policy decisions. The latest data, based on the new measurement, revealed a third consecutive month of job decline, the longest such contraction since 2021. Although the figures were slightly stronger than the previous measure, concerns about the accuracy of experimental data remain. This may lead the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee to potentially exclude job data when making their upcoming decision on interest rates.

While this data collection issue has caused a crisis in the UK, it is not unique to the country. Globally, statisticians face similar challenges in maintaining response rates for household surveys as the nature of work and life undergo significant changes. Morgan highlights that people's lives have become busier, resulting in a decline in survey participation worldwide.

This trend of decreasing survey participation is not limited to the labor market but also extends to other aspects of life. Millennials and Generation Z individuals often baffle employers and statisticians with trends such as "quiet quitting," "snail girl jobs," and "Bare Minimum Mondays." Traditional employment and unemployment data may not accurately capture the job status of these generations, who are more likely to have side hustles and hold second jobs to safeguard against employer instability. Additionally, younger generations perceive that they face greater challenges than their parents, attributing this to factors such as inflation, significant student debt, and an overpriced housing market that have reshaped the concept of the American Dream.  

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