Alarming rise in long-term jobless in Northern Ireland 'cause for concern'
Northern Ireland's rate of long-term unemployment is a "genuine cause for concern", with people without jobs for more than a year accounting for two-thirds of the out of work.
Long-term unemployment in the province is now 63.1%, a sharp rise of 14.3% year-on-year, and is a complete contrast to the UK average of 34%, which fell 1.9% over the 12 months, February's Labour Market Survey (LFS) showed.
The overall unemployment rate for the three-month period between November and January 2015 was 6%, down 0.3% over the quarter and 1.5% on the previous year, while the UK figure fell to 5.7%.
The rate of economic inactivity rose by 1% to 27.8%, still the highest rate in the UK. Youth unemployment, those aged between 18-24, was 19.5%, down 2.9% on the year.
The claimant count, those claiming Jobseekers Allowance, is now 5.2%, but is still the highest rate among all UK regions and much higher than the UK average of 2.4%.
Esmond Birnie, PwC chief economist, said the long-term unemployment figures are a big worry. "It is a genuine cause for concern and is much higher than in Great Britain. There is a sense that those easily employed are employed and that has left behind those who find it harder to get back into work," he said.
Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said higher long-term unemployment could be down to the province having the highest percentage of adults without formal qualifications in the UK.
"This figure reveals something about the local economy's 'brain drain' problem; but it also reflects the fact that around 40% of Northern Ireland school children leave the education system without five basic GCSEs," she said.
"The ability to move from unemployment into employment is so much more difficult when a person holds no formal qualifications."
In the construction industry employment numbers fell 4% year-on-year, the only sector to see a decline.
John Armstrong, of the Construction Employers Federation, said: "The industry is very concerned that an expected increase in private sector work in 2015 will be offset by cuts of over 20% in public sector investment in buildings and infrastructure. The danger here is that a recovery in local construction output will be further delayed and there will be fewer construction jobs based on sites in Northern Ireland."