LONDON–The number of people on company payrolls in the U.K. rose for the third straight month in February, a sign the labor market is stabilizing due to continuing government support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Economists cautioned, though, that it isn’t clear if that resilience will endure when that support ends.
The number of people on company payrolls rose by 68,000 in February from a month earlier, the Office for National Statistics said Tuesday. That was the third month in a row the number of employees has risen, though the overall number of people on payrolls remains sharply lower than it was before the pandemic struck early last year.
Data for the three months through January showed a decline in the unemployment rate, to 5.0%, from 5.1% for the three months through December.
Treasury chief Rishi Sunak earlier this month extended until September a government program that helps pay the wages of employees idled by the pandemic and government restrictions to contain it. Almost 5 million people are currently furloughed through the scheme, figures show.
Most economists expect unemployment to rise later this year as that support is withdrawn.
“The big unknown is how many of the 4.7 million people currently furloughed have jobs to return to,” said Anoushka Kenley, research and policy director of Pro Bono Economics, a consultancy.