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Northern Ireland unemployment rises as 22% of youth still without work

By John Mulgrew

The number of people unemployed in Northern Ireland has risen by 6,000 in the last three months, as youth joblessness continues to skyrocket here.

Unemployment levels rose to 6.2% from a low of 5.7% in the last quarter of 2014 according to the Labour Force Survey - which may be "as good as it gets" for joblessness in Northern Ireland, one economist has said.

That's risen to 55,000 across the region. But the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance dropped in April - falling by 900 claimants.

And while employment among those over the age of 25 is falling, it is young people who are continuing to suffer. Youth unemployment jumped from 17.8% in the last quarter of 2014, to almost 22% for the first three months of this year.

That compares with a UK rate of just 14.3%.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the labour market "had turned" and further increases were possible.

"I think the labour market has turned in terms of the fact that the headline unemployment rate is now up to 6.2%. We were going down steadily, now we're going back up," he said.

"The 5.7% figure in the fourth quarter of 2014 was the low - that was as good as it gets.

"We are going to see it potentially nudge higher. I don't think we are going to be returning to the previous levels again.

"It has turned and is turning. Yes, the claimant count is falling, but the wider definition - including people who are not entitled to means tested benefits - has gone up."

And it's youth unemployment which is Northern Ireland's biggest concern.

"The worrying thing is youth unemployment," he said. "Unemployment has risen for the under 25s. The focus needs to be there - things like apprenticeships, how this is going to be addressed."

Danske Bank's chief economist Angela McGowan said it was "a little worrying that the headline unemployment figure for quarter one has started to creep up".

"Northern Ireland's recovery has not kept pace with the rest of the UK but without coordinated action the relatively small gap that currently exists could continue to widen," she said.

And in his first week as Enterprise Minister, Jonathan Bell said that "although we have seen a slight increase in the monthly unemployment rate, the annual decrease in both the unemployment rate and the number claiming unemployment-related benefits portrays a more positive picture than a year ago".

UK-wide unemployment has continued to fall, with a record number of people in work.

Figures showed that unemployment has dipped to a seven-year low of 1.83 million.

Employment continued to rise, up by 202,000 in the three months to March to more than 31 million, the highest since records began in 1971.

PwC's chief economist in Northern Ireland, Dr Esmond Birnie, said while some figures "remain positive", the region stills lags behind the fortunes of the UK as a whole.

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