I THINK I AM beginning to make some headway at last. Our editorial yesterday on the latest job figures finally made the point that rising unemployment is mostly the result of a growing labour force. It is time that this understanding was spread more widely among journalists. Our news report on these figures still made out that 'a further 9,200 people lost their jobs'. Not so. The three-month average of the number of jobs in the SAR at the end of February was exactly the same as at the end of January, 3,228,800, and this, by the way, was still higher than at the end of November. That increase in unemployment is all down to more people entering the labour force. What sort of person is this labour force entrant? Short answer: She is a woman. There are now fewer men in the labour force than there were four years ago but the number of women in it has grown by 165,000 over the same period. This is partly because a rising proportion of women are looking for jobs while the labour force participation rate of men is declining. It is also a reflection of a demographic trend. There were fewer women than men in our resident population in June 1996. There are now 167,000 more women than men. Natural increase alone does not explain this. There are consistently more male than female births in Hong Kong but there are even more male deaths and, in terms of natural increase alone, the proportion of women in the population is thus rising slightly. Natural increase is itself very slight, however, and can account for only a fraction of the increase in female population. The difference clearly stems from net immigration and we can therefore define our typical labour force entrant a little more closely. She is likely to be a recent immigrant. She is also likely to be married and somewhere between 35 and 45 years old. Draw the age distribution curve of our female population and this is where you now find the bulge bracket. It is also where the female labour force shows the most growth. There are now 171,000 more women aged above 40 in the labour force than there were five years ago. Here is another little snippet. She is likely to be better educated than her male counterpart, less likely to have left school at the primary stage and more likely to have some tertiary education. But it has done her little good. She is much less likely than her male counterpart to be an administrator or professional, much more likely to be a shop saleswoman, clerk or domestic helper. In consequence she is also paid less. Only 5 per cent of male workers make less than HK$5,000 a month. For female workers it is 25 per cent. In fact if she prizes job security she would have done better to quit school earlier. The unemployment rate for women with tertiary education is now higher than it is for women with only primary education. For men it is pretty much what you would expect - the better the education the lower the unemployment rate. But women do get it back at men on one score. They suffer less from unemployment. At the end of December when the overall unemployment rate was 6.1 per cent, the figure for men was 6.7 per cent and for women only 4.1 per cent. So there you have it. Our typical labour force entrant is a married woman in her 40s, who was probably not born in Hong Kong, who has completed secondary education but still can only find work as a sales clerk and is thus quite poorly paid. She has the satisfaction, however, of knowing that she is cheaper to her employees than any male competitor for her job, which is why they keep her on the payroll and, if tough choices have to be made, let the man go.