UK unemployment falls to 8.1 percent

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LONDON (AP) — Unemployment in the United Kingdom fell to 8.1 percent in the March-May quarter, down from 8.3 percent in the previous three months, official data showed Wednesday.

The Office for National Statistics said the rate was also an improvement on the 8.2 percent jobless rate reported last month for the February-April period.

The number of people with jobs increased by 181,000, the biggest quarterly gain in two years.

Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight, said the job market may be enjoying a short-term boost related to the 2012 Olympic Games, which open in London later this month.

"Further out, the jobs outlook seems more problematical," he said.

Total pay including bonuses was 1.5 percent higher than a year earlier, compared with an annual gain of 1.4 percent in the previous quarter.

The British economy is in recession and indicators suggest it will struggle in coming quarters. To help it turn around, the Bank of England this month agreed to provide new stimulus.

Minutes from the central bank's meeting published Wednesday showed seven members of its Monetary Policy Committee had voted to approve the further 50 billion pounds ($78 billion) in asset purchases but two opposed the move. The vote raised the total amount authorized for the quantitative easing program to 375 billion pounds.

Some members at the July 4-5 meeting favored a larger shot of stimulus of 75 billion pounds, and most MPC members felt the case for stimulus had increased since June, the minutes showed.

The MPC also discussed the possibility of cutting the base interest rate below the current all-time low of 0.5 percent, but decided to leave it unchanged.

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