NI unemployment rate falls to joint-record low level

The north's unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade
Gareth McKeown

THE north's unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade according to the latest government figures.

The Labour Force Survey for the period November to January has revealed positive results in the key areas of unemployment, employment and economic inactivity. The figures show that the number of those unemployed represented just 3.2 per cent of the population (16+), the joint lowest rate on record, on a par with May to July, 2007. This represented a fall of 0.8 per cent on the previous quarter and 2.6 per cent over the year.

It is the second quarter running where the unemployment rate was estimated below 4 per cent and follows a period of generally decreasing unemployment rates seen over the last five years. The unemployment rate remains below the UK average of 4.3 per cent and is the lowest out of all UK regions.

The number of those in work grew by 1.8 per cent over the quarter to 69.8 per cent, with a more marginal 0.5 per cent rise recorded over the year, while there was additional welcome news in terms of the concerning economic inactivity rate in the north, which fell by 1.2 per cent over the three months to January. The rate of 27.8 per cent is still 1.5 per cent higher than the same period a year ago, but is significantly below peak rates recorded in mid-2009.

Senior economist at the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, Dr Esmond Birnie said there has been some progress in the Northern Ireland labour market, but the picture is not all rosy.

“There are some good results but, just as we should not confuse a single day of good weather with spring, there are grounds for caution.Ten years on from the banking crisis there is little sign of trend growth in Northern Ireland's employment rate. If anything the gap relative to the UK average has widened.”

"Northern Ireland's economic inactivity rate remains close to 28 per cent with a gap relative to the UK average of about 7 percentage points. And we have yet to see the impact in the figures of the big job redundancies announced since the start of the year," he added.

Private sector jobs, driven by the services sector, increased over the quarter by 0.9 per cent over the quarter and 2.6 per cent over to 549,340, the highest level since records began in 1974. The number of public jobs also grew, but still remains 9.5 per cent below the peak levels recorded in September 2009.

The Labour Force Survey further revealed a marginal decrease in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits(including some out-of-work claimants of Universal Credit). Last month 28,700 people (3.1 per cent of the workforce) were claiming benefits, a decrease of 100 from the previous month's revised figure.

The number of redundancies is also on the decline, with 238 confirmed up to the end of February, while over the past year there has been a 49 per cent fall in the number of confirmed redundancies from 3,553 in 2017 to 1,815.

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