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This is from the BBC Re-hiring retired people

"...these people are called "economically inactive". In fact, more of them say they want a job (1.7 million people) than are officially unemployed."

The second sentence has an unusual comparative form. I am not sure if I understood it correctly.

According to what I understood; Economically inactive people are actually looking for a job - although they are reflected as not doing so-, but not all of them are actually looking for a job. In fact, amongst them the number of those looking for a job is rising. And this rising number is actually higher than the number that official statistics show.

Is what I understood right? If right, why are they called as "economically inactive" although they are known officially to be looking for a job?

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  • Yes, you got it.
    – Lambie
    Jan 30, 2023 at 20:21
  • Some people listed officially as 'economically inactive' (not in paid work, but also not looking for a job or available to start work) do, it seems, actually want a job. Jan 30, 2023 at 20:42
  • @MichaelHarvey, thank you for the explanation.
    – Yunus
    Jan 30, 2023 at 20:48
  • "The second sentence has a different comparative form." Different from what? Jan 30, 2023 at 20:48
  • @MarcInManhattan, Different in that "more" and "than" are far away from each other. We usually expect a structure "....more than....". I have tried to bring together "more" and "than" to rewrite the sentence with an aim to make it more clear, but could not. And interestingly, this form seems to be only way it could be put to give that meaning.
    – Yunus
    Jan 31, 2023 at 5:18

3 Answers 3

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A. Context

It's hard to answer the question from the two sentences quoted. But @yunus has done well to give the source link. The article is an analysis of Britain's apparently low unemployment rate, and this is what the first section says in its entirety:

How many people are unemployed?

Officially, about 1.3 million people in the UK are unemployed.

That's 3.7% of the working-age population (16-64 years old).

[graph shown here]

But that figure represents only a small part of the 10 million working-age people who aren't in a paid job.

Nearly nine million of them aren't called "unemployed". That's because they're not actively looking for work, or available to start a job.

Instead these people are called "economically inactive".

In fact, more of them say they want a job (1.7 million people) than are officially unemployed.

So the whole point of this section is to get a better understanding of the terms used. For instance:

Unemployed = "Officially unemployed" (paragraph 1). (Perhaps this means that these are people registered with the government agencies as looking for work.) The number is 1.3 million.

People who aren't in a paid job (paragraph 3). The number is 10 million. This is a global and non-technical description, and is intended to lead into a discussion of why the two numbers are different.

Economically inactive (paragraph 5). This number is "nearly 9 million". This is the group of people who are working-age (paragraphs 2 and 3) but "are not actively looking for work, or available to start a job." (paragraph 4)

People who say they want a job (paragraph 6). This number is 1.7 million.

So how do these terms relate to each other? That's actually not an easy question, and I suspect that's one purpose of the article: to show that when we dig deeper, there are different nuances to consider.

I think it's unclear from the wording how the 1.7 million is counted. Is it 1.7 in addition to the officially unemployed? (If so, the total who want a job is presumably 1.7 plus 1.3 equalling 3 million.) Or is it 1.7 including the officially unemployed? (In which case we would be adding 0.4 million to the official unemployment number.)

One final note about context. The graph in the middle of the section splits the text in half. All the text quoted in the OP comes from below the graph. But the paragraphs above the graph help with the understanding. Sometimes when reading a multi media document we need to work harder to see which parts of the text are relevant to the interpretation.

B. The question

  1. You are making a correct deduction when you say that some of the "economically inactive" group want to work, and some don't.

  2. You are not making a correct deduction when you say that this number is rising. All the numbers given are one-off or point-in-time numbers. The definitions are intended to make comparisons between groups, not comparisons over time. All we can say is that one number is bigger or smaller than another number now.

  3. You are making a correct deduction that "this number is greater than official statistics show".

  4. Why are they called "economically inactive" if they are looking for a job? Good question. Answer 1 is to note that the reasons why people are not working are many and varied, and they are in fact explored in section 2 of the quoted article. Answer 2 is to give a small personal example. I have a family member who would be economically inactive at the moment, but still wants to work. He's in both of those groups because he is currently recovering from a serious injury. We hope that in time he will be back to full health and productively employed.

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  • Thanks for the great analysis and scrutiny. I can't thank you enough.
    – Yunus
    Jan 31, 2023 at 5:14
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It is all there in the article:

Nearly nine million of them aren't called "unemployed". That's because they're not actively looking for work, or available to start a job.

Instead these people are called "economically inactive".

Economically inactive are people who don't have a job, and aren't actively looking for one. This includes students, the sick, carers, and retired people.

They may want a job, but be unable to take one. For example a parent might not be able to afford the costs of child care if he/she were to return to work. That person wants a job, but can't take one on right now. So they are not "Unemployed" in the official statistics.

There are 1.3 million "unemployed" and 9 million "economically inactive". Among those 9 million, 1.7 million would like a job, but are not "actively seeking work". So more of them (the 9 million people) say they want a job (1.7 million) than are officially unemployed (1.3 million)

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  • It may not be all there in the article. Peter explained how unclear it is. Here is a small part: ("....it's unclear from the wording how the 1.7 million is counted. Is it 1.7 in addition to the officially unemployed? (If so, the total who want a job is presumably 1.7 plus 1.3 equalling 3 million.) Or is it 1.7 including the officially unemployed? (In which case we would be adding 0.4 million to the official unemployment number....) See Peter's answer, for full explanation.
    – Yunus
    Jan 31, 2023 at 7:05
  • Actually I don't agree. It is perfectly clear that the 1.7 million doesn't include the 1.3 million unemployed. "More of them (1.7 million)" where "them" is the 9 million who don't have a job but are not unemployed. So those 1.7 million are a subset of the 9 million, and don't include any unemployed people. It's not ambiguous.
    – James K
    Feb 1, 2023 at 0:13
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It is badly written, and confusing. The sentence in question says

In fact, more of them say they want a job (1.7 million people) than are officially unemployed.

That is, those of "them" who want a job outnumber those of "them" who are officially unemployed.

So who is meant by "them"? It should be the last group mentioned, the nearly 9 million "economically inactive", but that wouldn't actually make sense because none of the "economically inactive" are "officially unemployed" by definition.

One possibility would be that "them" is intended to refer to "the 10 million working-age people who aren't in a paid job". This would be sloppy writing. In that case 1.3 million of the 10 million are officially unemployed, but 1.7 million of that 10 million want a job. Then the conclusion is hardly surprising: presumably the officially unemployed all want jobs, so the latter group is always going to be at least as large.

Another possibility is that "them" doesn't even refer to the same group throughout the sentence. This would be very sloppy writing. In that case, 1.7 million of the nearly 9 million want a job, which is more than the separate 1.3 million of the 10 million who are officially unemployed.

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  • Thank you for the good analysis.
    – Yunus
    Jan 31, 2023 at 10:44
  • I don't get this. There are about 10 million people without a job 1.3 million are unemployed. 1.7 million are not unemployed but say they want a job. Leaving 7 million who don't have a job and say they don't want one. 1.7 + 7 = 8.7, which is rounded to 9 million "economically inactive" people. "them" refers to this 9 million people. To me it seems very clear.
    – James K
    Feb 1, 2023 at 0:18
  • @JamesK The point is that if "them" is the 9 million, none of "them [...] are officially unemployed". They should have written "More of them say they want a job (1.7 million) than there are officially unemployed people," to avoid the implication that the latter are part of "them". Feb 1, 2023 at 9:54
  • I don't see that implication. I am at a loss as to why anybody finds this ambiguous. It seems clear as glass to me.
    – James K
    Feb 1, 2023 at 21:14
  • @JamesK what do you think is the subject of "are officially unemployed"? Saying "More of A are X than are Y" compares the number of people in set A having property X with the number of people in A having property Y, not with the number of people outside A having property Y. Feb 2, 2023 at 9:00

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