UK Women In Work Have Fuelled Britain's Employment Rate Finally Overtaking The US

Britain's employment rate is trumping that of the US for the first time in years, and it's all thanks to getting more women into work after they have children.

While Britain used to look to the US as a model for a society where many people are employed, the tables have turned with the UK an inspiration for US businesses, after a long-term shift in the number of women in work, especially single mothers.

A new study by the Resolution Foundation has found the proportion of British families where no-one works are at their lowest for 30 years - an employment rate that beats America's and means the UK is leading our cousins across the pond.

Sorry Obama, we have a higher employment rate than you

This is partially thanks to a combination of more child-friendly workplaces, tax credits and schemes to get lone parents - mainly women - into employment, which have taken a "generation of toil" to achieve, according to the foundation's chief executive.

Blogging on The Huffington Post UK, Gavin Kelly, the Chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, says: "America is still the country that most captures the imagination of the typical UK policy-maker, whether they are on the centre-right or centre-left. And for many in British politics, the US labour market would still be a place we should be learning lessons from. The standard view would probably be that the hyper-flexible, lean-welfare, go-getting US offers a guide to what a high-employment (if high-poverty) model looks like."

But this idea is "past its sell-by date", he explains.

The US employment rate has been falling since the millennium, the report finds, but the UK's employment rate is in "rude health" despite Britain experiencing a deeper recession than the US from 2008.

If the US had the same employment rate as Britain, there would be 10 million more people in jobs in the US than there are currently, the report says.

The "gentle rise" of female employment throughout the last century can be thanked for the transformation in Britain, Kelly argues. The boost in women having jobs, and how much the earned, was “one of the main factors that prevented low and middle income families experiencing a decline in their living standards" before the recession, Kelly claims.

Government policies in areas like maternity leave and flexible working have taken a "generation of toil" to achieve, Kelly says, and we're still behind top European countries on these. Older people in the UK are also working more than ever before, partly due to plummeting pensions incomes.

Paul Waugh, The Huffington Post UK's Executive Editor for Politics, writes: "The idea that the US is a booming jobs-filled economy while we are a welfare-dependent backsliders has been turned on its head. For all Bill Clinton’s warm words on the issue, American single mothers’ unemployment rates have gone up, not down."

Gavin Kelly warns that tax credits have also been crucial to our rising employment, and says that cutting them could undermine the good work that has been done since the 1990s.

Paul Waugh points out both Labour and the Conservatives are likely to seize on the report, with Labour already saying it would oppose any “harsh brutal and brutalising” welfare reforms, and the Tories likely to lean on the research as proof they have got people off welfare into work.

"Indeed many Republicans in the US are looking closely at how the UK has pulled off its transformation," Waugh concludes. "Paul Ryan has told [Iain Duncan Smith] that ‘you’re ten years ahead of us, but that’s where we should be heading’."

In contrast, the UK should try to learn lessons from the US on how not to approach jobs, Kelly writes in his blog. Rising wages are essential to keep people in work, he said, and a generation of pay stagnation in the US has aligned with falling unemployment.

It's also important to look at the areas of employment policy where the UK has been less impressive. Employment rates for households including the disabled have been static since the 1990s, the report found, and we need a "significant shift" and financial and legal changes to overhaul this, in the same way as the employment of mothers has evolved.

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