the times

The Times leads with the headline today: ‘95% of new workers are foreigners’ – but the newspaper is misleading its readers.

And this is common among newspapers when they make such claims.

Here is how the Times arrived at its headline:

The number of people in work increased by 454,000 between July and September last year and the same period this year. Workers born overseas made up nearly 95 per cent of the increase — just over 430,000.

This is a sleight of hand. It sounds legit but it isn’t.

Every quarter, when employment figures come out, such headlines are common across the British right-wing press. The Sun did the same in May (to make the case for Brexit). The Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and the Spectator are all also guilty of such misleading headlines.

Why is it misleading?

Newspapers usually divide the rise in foreign-born workers by the rise in employment (in a given period) and come to this figure. But it is wrong.

For a start, official employment figures do not show how many new jobs went to foreign-born workers or to Brits. No such figures exist.

Secondly, a large proportion of the ‘foreign-born workers’ are actually British citizens. They were just born abroad! That brings the number down usually to about 50 – 60%, not 90%.

In other words, if Boris Johnson gets a new job, he is counted as a ‘foreign-born worker taking a British job’ by the press as he was born in the U.S.. It’s absurd! Especially as Boris Johnson doesn’t do that much work.

Thirdly, the ‘new jobs’ number issued by the ONS is a net figure. It subtracts jobs lost in the economy against new ones created. In fact most of it is churn, and most of the new jobs are taken up by British workers. But because the economy is also growing at the same time, foreign-born workers are also able to get jobs in the UK.

This genre of ‘foreigners are taking all our jobs‘ – is so misleading that press regulator IPSO has ruled against it almost every time. Most recently, The Sun had to change its copy after claiming that ‘4 in 5 jobs go to foreign workers’.

The press regulator has issued similar warnings to other newspapers too.

But every quarter there’s always a newspaper that cannot pass up the opportunity to mislead its readers with this headline.

Why worry about fake news on Facebook when our own newspapers produce so much tripe?

  1. I agree with the sentiment here, and notice it doesn’t mention the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy, which is another way in which the headline is wrong.

    I don’t understand the point about churn? If there is a certain number of job openings,
    and foreign born people (like Boris) take some of them, there will be fewer for people born in the UK – that seems indisputable. The fact that we are really looking at a net figure doesn’t seem to change anything?

    What am I missing?

  2. The churn is things like people retiring, moving jobs etc etc there are 454000 more jobs than there were. British people on average have less than 2 children got every 2 adults (1.8 I think) so if we didn’t bring in more workers then the economy doesn’t grow….
    General election unemployment is dropping that’s the key measure people should concentrate on.

  3. Still not getting it. I understand what churn is, I don’t understand why it matters.

    Scenario A) In one month lets say everyone in the UK stays in their jobs, but 10,000 extra jobs are created. If 5,000 foreign born people get jobs, there must be 5,000 fewer jobs for non-foreign born people (ceteris paribus)

    Scenario B) In one month, 20,000 people lose their job, but another 30,000 people get jobs. Of the net 10,000 jobs, 5,000 go to foreign born people, leaving 5,000 fewer for foreign born people.

    I can’t see a difference. Which leaves me thinking the times headline is wrong, that it should have said 50-60%.

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