North's unemployment rate falls to almost record levels
THE north's unemployment rate has fallen to almost record levels according to the latest government figures.
The Labour Force Survey covering December to February has revealed unemployment levels are now at 3.5 per cent - the lowest value recorded in the quarterly series
, down 1.8 per cent over the year and 0.3 per cent over the quarter.
The rate remains below the UK average (4.2 per cent) and the Republic of Ireland (6.1 per cent), while it is second lowest of all UK regions.
The figures also show that the north's unemployment rate amongst females has never been lower. The unemployment rate fell to 2.1 per cent in the latest period, which compares with 4.6 per cent for males.
In further good news for the labour market the employment rate increased both over the year and the quarter by 0.8 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively, but the economic inactivity rate remains a concern, recorded at a high 27.9 per cent, growing by 0.5 per cent in the past 12 months, but falling over the last three by 0.3 per cent.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey says the latest figures show that Northern Ireland is now "effectively at full employment" and suggests the main issue over the next year will be one of a skills shortage.
"Looking ahead into 2019 skills shortages are likely to intensify in many sectors," he said.
"This is expected to put upward pressure on wages. Employers are already experiencing increased employment costs from other sources e.g. pension auto-enrolment. It is also worth highlighting that over the last fourteen years Northern Ireland's labour market has become increasingly dependent upon EU-nationals. Indeed, the employment growth experienced since 2014 was dominated by EU-26 nationals."
"Restrictions on the flow of EU-26 nationals post-Brexit are expected to add to concerns over skills shortages in Northern Ireland and the UK in the years ahead."
Danske Bank chief economist, Conor Lambe believes the latest results contain a number of positives, but remains concerned over the economic inactivity rate.
"The economic inactivity rate is still too high and above what it was a year ago. It did decrease over the quarter which is encouraging to see, but there is still substantial room for improvement on this particular measure of the local labour market."
Last month the number of people receiving unemployment benefits was 28,700, representing 3.1 per cent of the workforce and a marginal fall on the February figure.
There were 227 confirmed redundancies in March, while over the last year to March 31 there has been a 45 per cent decrease in the number of confirmed redundancies from 3,480 in 2017 to 1,903.