A "yawning" jobs gap in the South West has widened during the recession and now stands at 119,000, a new analysis of official figures has shown.
The employment rate in the region has fallen by 2.7 per cent since 2008 – making it the second hardest-hit region of the country, behind the South East, an independent think-tank has found.
The most recent figures show that 58.7 per cent of everyone over 16 in the six-county region are employed – 2,547,000 – compared to 61.4 per cent in early 2008.
The study comes after four monthly drops in the jobless figures in Devon and Cornwall, leaving 23,830 people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA) in the two counties in June – 1,810 fewer than in May.
The wider measure of unemployment – which includes more than just people claiming the benefit – fell by 11,000 in the greater South West to 156,000 in the latest quarter, the lowest rate of joblessness in the UK at 5.8%.
Alex Hurrell, senior analyst at authors the Resolution Foundation, said despite a sense of growing economic confidence, only London has seen the share of the adult population in work approaching the total from five years ago.
"Unfortunately these figures show that the jobs recovery continues to be very difficult in the South West and that there is a long way to go before the hole knocked in employment during the recession is repaired," he added.
"Economic confidence seems to be on the rise in the UK and this is partly down to a welcome increase in the overall numbers of people in work. "However this hasn't matched the rate of the increase in the adult population and the result has been that employment, measured as a proportion of people aged 16 and over, has fallen everywhere," said Mr Hurrell.
In Scotland and the East Midlands the employment rate has also fallen by more than 2.5 per cent since 2008.
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said a greater concern locally was the 10% lag behind the South East in terms of productivity per worker.
"We are still constrained by finance and a key issue is access to finance, as well as a toolkit for businesses to operate and improved broadband connectivity," he said.