Unemployment could rise further in Northern Ireland as the economy continues to struggle, according to a new report from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).
Their latest economic commentary said prospects for the economy "remain muted" and that labour market conditions will continue to be "difficult".
The report says independent forecasters expect the Northern Ireland economy to grow at a rate of around 1% this year and by around 2% in 2012 - but that those predictions could be revised downwards depending on the global economic and eurozone crises.
"The local labour market continues to experience difficulties, with the number of people claiming unemployment benefits continuing to rise, having reached levels last experienced in 1997," said the report.
"The number of jobs in the Northern Ireland economy also continues to fall.
"Any unemployment represents both lost personal potential and a loss to the economy."
The bleakness was evenly spread with conditions remaining "tough" for most sectors with declines in jobs, output or both during the downturn.
"The economic growth outlook for the local economy is muted," the report said. "Difficulties in countries which are key trading partners, such as the Republic of Ireland and UK, and global uncertainty will adversely impact the Northern Ireland economy."
The report says that the local labour market has been "more severely impacted" than the UK, with the number of claimants more than doubling over the last three years, representing an increase of 107%, greater than the rise for the UK as a whole (65%), and the largest rise for any UK region over the period.
There were 60,900 claimants of unemployment-related benefit in September.
The report says that with the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland representing almost one quarter (24.1%) of the total people claiming unemployment-related benefits, it is "essential" that measures to get the long-term unemployed back to work are brought forward.
The report said that food, drink and tobacco is the biggest export market, accounting for over £1bn of exports.