• Younger age groups were generally more likely to experience unemployment before the pandemic.

  • Black/black British adults are twice as likely to be unemployed than white adults and this has not changed since 2014/15, despite overall decreases in unemployment.

  • Younger people and ethnic minorities have been at greater risk of job loss, reduced pay and being furloughed or unemployed since pandemic restrictions have been in operation.

This chart shows the proportion of UK adults aged 16-64 years who reported that they were unemployed (currently without a job but actively seeking work) in 2014/15 and 2019/20 and the data is split by ethnicity and age.

Unemployment can affect people’s health in several ways: it can act as a source of stress, deprive people of income and social networks, and lead to unhealthy coping behaviours.

Ethnicity

  • The proportion of adults who are unemployed in each ethnic group has fallen between 2014/15 and 2019/20, reflecting improvement in the overall employment rate.

  • Unemployment is higher for every ethnic minority group than for white British working-age adults, and ranges from 3.5% to 6.2% in 2019/20.

  • Generally, unemployment fell the most for groups that had the highest unemployment previously. For example, the proportion of black/black British adults who were unemployed fell by 3.5 percentage points during this time. This reflects that there was more scope for unemployment to improve for groups with higher original unemployment.

Despite these improvements, there are still inequalities. The ratio of unemployed black/black British adults to unemployed white adults has remained 2.2 times higher in both time periods.

Age

  • Younger age groups are generally more likely to experience unemployment. A total of 7.7% of 16–19-year-olds and 6.8% of 20–24-year-olds are unemployed, compared with 3% of those aged 25–34 years.

  • Unemployment is lower for older age groups, but this can reflect higher levels of economic inactivity rather than simply higher employment rates.

Unemployment started to rise again in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions. Existing inequalities in employment are expected to widen due to the sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic restrictions. As a result of lockdown, younger people were much more likely to have been furloughed or lost their jobs. This is because younger people are also much more likely to work in sectors that were shut down during lockdown, such as hospitality and leisure.

The recovery plan for the economy should acknowledge the new inequalities in the labour market created by pandemic restrictions, but also consider the groups affected by pre-pandemic issues. These include younger workers, a group that also bore the brunt of the consequences of the financial crisis. Policy interventions should also acknowledge that a strong labour market will not by itself necessarily fix inequalities – targeted interventions are needed.

  • Unemployment is defined as people actively seeking and being available for work. The unemployment rate is traditionally the unemployed population as a share of the economically active population (unemployed and employed population). To allow comparison with groups that have different levels of economic inactivity, such as younger age groups with high numbers of students, this chart expresses unemployment as a share of the adult population.
  • This analysis uses the Labour Force Survey and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition of unemployment. It does not use the claimant count that gives an administrative count of people receiving unemployment benefit.

Source: Office for National Statistics via nomis, Annual population survey, 2019

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This is part of Evidence hub: What drives health inequalities?

Data, insights and analysis exploring how the circumstances in which we live shape our health