There's work if you want it, labour market figures show

Northern Ireland is virtually at full employment, new government figures show
Gary McDonald Business Editor

IF you're not currently in work in Northern Ireland, you simply mustn't want a job . . . .

That's the underlining trend from the latest set of labour market statistics, which reveal that unemployment has fallen to an all-time low of 2.9 per cent while the number of available jobs is at a record high.

And it all equates to the local economy approaching full employment, economists believe.

But while the north's inactivity rate is also one of the lowest on record, the rate of 26.5 per cent - made up of groups including students and retired people - is still high in UK terms.

Jordan Buchanan, chief economist at PropertyPal, said: “Recent improvements in improving our economic inactivity is welcome, but for context, if Northern Ireland's inactivity rate matched the UK, there would be an additional 74,000 people available for the active labour force."

He added: “The region is still playing catch up, with the legacy of the financial crash over a decade ago still prevalent. All regions of the UK have a higher employment rate than pre-crash levels but Northern Ireland still has among the lowest employment rate in the UK, second only to the north east of England."

Tina McKenzie, policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in the north, added: “The news that the employment rate in Northern Ireland has grown to a record high, despite all the uncertainty which is surrounding the economy, can only be welcomed, and it is SMEs, who are the backbone of our economy, who continue to show incredible resilience.

“However, with a tight labour market and many sectors already noting significant skills shortages, it is an absolute necessity that future migration policy is suitably flexible to the needs of business, so they can continue to create jobs and make this place more prosperous.

“This week's Balmoral Show will showcase the very best of our farming and agri-food industry, which plays a pivotal role in the local economy. If this industry can't access the labour it needs post-Brexit, then its future success may well be in doubt.”

She added: “FSB will continue to engage with the UK government to ensure the needs of the Northern Ireland economy are reflected in how migration is managed in the future.”

Some highlights from the latest labour report:

• Seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January-March, at 2.9 per cent. is down 0.9 per cent over the quarter and 0.2 per cent over the year.

• This is below the rate in the UK (3.8 per cent), European Union (6.5 per cent) and the Republic (5.6 per cent).

• Just under half (49 per cent) of those unemployed in the long were long-term (ie out of work for a year or more) compared to 26.8 per cent in the UK.

• The employment rate (71.3 per cent) increased over the quarter by 1 per cent and over the year by 1.5 per cent to the highest on record.

• The economic inactivity rate (26.5 per cent) decreased over the quarter by 0.2 per cent and over the year by 1.4 per cent to one of the lowest rates on record.

• The number of confirmed redundancies (2,098) in the most recent 12 months is similar to the number reported in the previous 12 months. Some 49 redundancies took place in April.

• No proposed redundancies were notified to between mid-April and mid-May. This follows 1,104 proposed redundancies in the last monthly period.

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