UNEMPLOYMENT has fallen in Northern Ireland over the last few months, adding some good economic cheer ahead of next week's G8 summit.
Figures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment show that the unemployment rate – a measure devised by the International Labour Office – fell by 0.6 percentage points to 7.8% between February and April.
The number of claimants of unemployment benefits was also down 200 in May to 64,100, marking the fourth month in a row in which a 200-strong fall has been recorded.
There have not been four consecutive months of falling claimant numbers since August 2007 – also the month when the housing market peaked.
But long-term unemployment is spreading – 59% of the unemployed have been jobless for over one year, up 14% on a year earlier.
There were 693,340 employee jobs in March – down 1,510 over the quarter but an increase of 1,800 on March 2012.
There was also a fall in the numbers of economically inactive people – down 4,000 over the quarter. That left the economic inactivity rate at 27% – still the highest among 12 UK regions.
The outlook for the young appeared to be rosier, with the unemployment rate for 18- to 24-year-olds at 19%, down 2% over the year.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the statistics contained "something for everyone".
"On the positive front, the number of individuals claiming unemployment benefit, or more commonly known as the dole, fell for the fourth successive month.
"The last time Northern Ireland strung four consecutive monthly falls was August 2007 – the month when the credit crunch officially began," he said.
"The number of individuals working in some capacity increased by 11,000 in the three months to April relative to the previous quarter. Rising employment and falling unemployment would appear to be unambiguously positive news.
"However, whilst the number of people working (at least one hour per week as in the ILO definition) increased, the number of actual jobs fell by over 1,500 in the first quarter of 2013."
And he said the claimant count was unlikely to remain on a downward trajectory but would instead by pushed up by "tens of thousands" as welfare reform shunts people from the economic inactivity register on to the claimant count.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: "The fall of the unemployment rate over the last three months is welcome.
"While it is too early to read too much into this it is important that we continue to build on these positive signs."
Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said: "There have been a number of improving economic indicators of late and the recent unemployment figures add to the mix."