Belfast Telegraph

Dole queues shorten, but employment rate also falls

By John Mulgrew

Unemployment in Northern Ireland is at its lowest rate in almost a decade, but our jobless numbers remain the worst in the UK.

And while the dole queues continue to shorten across Northern Ireland - dropping by 300 in the last month - the employment rate has also dropped, by 0.5% to 68.8%.

The number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits stood at 31,500 for March.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows unemployment levels fell by 0.4% to 5.2% between December and February. That's the lowest since the end of 2008.

Economist Dr Esmond Birnie said that the figures painted "a mixed picture", with jobless levels falling, but also employment activity.

"It is not easy to explain. Some of it must be the number of people who have the potential to work has grown rapidly, even though the unemployment rate is going down," he said.

"We are back to where we were in 2007, just before the banking crisis."

He said while falling unemployment was welcome, it was also important to address the employment rate, as it was "of crucial importance in raising living standards and output and reducing household poverty". "It is striking that the data published by NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency) indicate Northern Ireland's employment rate shows little sign of long-term improvement, and has even declined in recent months, by 0.5% points over the quarter to 68.8%," he added.

"That figure of about 69% is very similar to 2007. In other words, over the last decade there has been no improvement.

"This contrasts to the situation in the rest of the UK where the employment rate has increased by several percentage points to 74.6%."

Danske Bank economist Conor Lambe said: "Today's Northern Ireland labour market data represented a bit of a mixed bag, (but) it was encouraging to see the unemployment rate fall to its lowest rate since September-November 2008. Likewise, there was some good news regarding claimants of unemployment-related benefits."

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