LONDON, May 14 (Reuters) – Britain’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since the mid-1970s as a pre-Brexit hiring surge continued, but workers’ pay rose a bit less quickly in the first three months of 2019, official data showed.
The unemployment rate stood at 3.8%, its lowest since early 1975 and down slightly from a previous reading of 3.9%, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.
Employment grew by 99,000, below the median forecast of 135,000 in a Reuters poll of economists.
But unemployment fell by 65,000, the data showed.
Britain’s labour market has defied the approach of Brexit, helping households whose spending drives the economy.
Last month, Britain’s exit from the EU, which was originally scheduled for March 29, was delayed until October.
The strength of the labour market is pushing up wages more quickly than the Bank of England has forecast, leading some economists to think it might raise interest rates faster than investors expect once the Brexit uncertainty lifts.
In the January-March period, total earnings, including bonuses, rose by an annual 3.2%, slowing from 3.5% in the three months to February and weaker than a forecast of 3.4% in the Reuters poll.
The BoE this month said it expected wage growth of 3% at the end of this year.
Britain’s hiring spree is widely seen as a reflection of how companies have opted to take on workers rather than commit to longer-term investments in the face of uncertainty about Brexit.
The hiring surge has weighed on Britain’s already weak productivity growth and the ONS on Tuesday said that output per hour fell by an annual 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019, its third consecutive fall.
In quarterly terms, output per hour fell by 0.6 percent, its biggest fall since the end of 2015.
The ONS data also showed the number of EU workers in the United Kingdom rose by an annual 58,000 after three consecutive falls.
The number of non-EU workers in the country grew more strongly, up by 124,000 compared with the same period of 2018.
(Reporting by William Schomberg and Costas Pitas)
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