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Dip in employment 'points to slowdown in the local economy'

By Margaret Canning

A fall in the employment rate is proof that the local economy is slowing down, an expert has claimed.

A labour market survey revealed the unemployment rate for September to November was 5.6% - up 0.1 percentage points on the same period a year earlier, and down 0.3% percentage points on the year before that.

There was a slight increase of 0.8% in the economic inactivity rate over the quarter, bringing it to 26.5%.

However, the separate claimant count rate - showing the number of people signing on to claim unemployment benefits - was 32,700 in December, down 800 on a month earlier.

Economist Dr Esmond Birnie, from Ulster University's Economic Policy Centre, said the figures showed that the economy was slowing down, with the percentage of people in the potential workforce who have actual jobs falling to 69.3%.

Dr Birnie added: "All this must be taken together with previous data showing that employment growth in Northern Ireland is increasingly being weighted to the more precarious parts of the labour market- part-time and self-employed.

"It is also of note that in the year to September 2016, the total number of employees in employment increased by only 500. In the year to September 2015, the increase was 9,460."

He also said that the fall in the claimant count was "confusing", adding that, overall, the figures indicated a slowdown in the economy.

In notes accompanying the statistics, the Department for the Economy said the figures showed the vote to leave the EU had not yet had an impact on jobs.

"The post-referendum picture is still emerging and will continue to do so over the coming quarters and years," the notes read.

"It is also not possible to separate out the specific impact of the referendum in this quarter from pre-existing trends.

"However, the latest figures show there has been little change in unemployment rates since the EU referendum."

The department also admitted, however, that while unemployment had fallen since 2013, the figures indicated some evidence of slowing growth.

"The unemployment register figures for 2016 indicate that claimants have been leaving the register at a much slower rate in 2016 compared to 2015," it said.

However, Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said the figures contained "positive messages" on a number of indicators, citing the fall in the unemployment rate, as well as the drop in the monthly claimant count.

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