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Mixed picture for NI jobs market 'that seems stuck where it was 10 years ago'

By John Mulgrew

The jobs market "seems stuck where it was a decade ago" as fresh figures show a mixed picture for employment in Northern Ireland.

While dole queues continue to shrink, with a decrease of 200 claimants in the last month, and unemployment levels also reducing - so is the employment level.

There are now 29,800 people claiming unemployment related benefits in Northern Ireland.

According to the latest Labour Force Survey, there was a decrease 0.5% in the employment rate. And the economic inactivity rate increased over the last quarter by 0.6%.

The latest survey revealed that the jobs market remained buoyant in Q2 with the number of jobs hitting a record high, according to Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey.

Speaking about the latest Quarterly Employee Survey, he said: "This was due to the private sector notching up its 12th consecutive quarter of employment gains.

"At an industry level, there were strong rates of growth across most sectors. Construction employment rose by over 7%, taking the number of jobs to a six-year high.

"That said, construction employment is still only three-quarters of what it was a decade ago. Manufacturers have been hiring at a rapid pace too. Despite the high profile job losses in Michelin and JTI, Northern Ireland's manufacturing employment hit a nine-year high in the last quarter.

"While the continuation of employment growth into Q2 2017 is encouraging it is clear that challenges remain. Not least productivity and the quality of the jobs being created."

"The Labour Force Survey also highlighted that economic inactivity continues to rise. Northern Ireland's inactivity rate in the three months to July hit its highest rate since Q3 2015.

"Meanwhile, the continued decline in the unemployment claimant count is occurring alongside rising take-up of the Employment Support Allowance. The latter's upward trend is worrying. It would appear that individuals are simply leaving one benefit register to another."

Mr Ramsey added: "Looking ahead, the squeeze in living standards (from high rates of inflation) is set to continue into 2018.

"While there appears to be some relaxation of the public sector pay caps, for most individuals, inflation will still outpace wage growth. Consumer-sensitive sectors which have been generating a lot of employment growth in recent years are vulnerable.

"Furthermore, the next few years will be dominated by Brexit and austerity. This presents challenges for both the public and private sectors."

Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, said while unemployment continues to fall "economic inactivity continues to rise".

"More and more people are withdrawing completely from the labour market," he said. "Ten years on from the onset of the banking crisis in 2007, Northern Ireland's employment rate seems stuck where it was in 2007 and 2008."

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