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New employment stats should concern us all

By David Elliot

When the monthly insight into the Northern Ireland jobs market arrives there's nothing for it but to make a big cup of coffee, ignore the phone and get the analytical head on.

Being bombarded with so much information in one go is daunting even for the most statistic-cherishing economist. But with a bit of time and a bit of digging it all becomes clear.

Well kind of. Here's what we learned yesterday in a nutshell: Slightly more of us are out of work, slightly more of us are in line for the dole, a few more of us were made redundant, those of us that are still in work were a bit more productive - except for those in the service sector who were less productive.

Oh and there was a big increase in the number of people who are 'economically inactive', a phrase which covers students, those who are sick or disabled, those looking after the family home, the retired and an interesting bunch labelled 'other'.

Taking this last point first, the 3,000 ramp up in the number of economically inactive people struck us as nothing to be too worried about.

"Sure isn't it just the start of the students' summer holidays?" we thought, thinking they'd be the extra added to the list.

But fuelled by caffeine, we weren't going to let it lie at that.

This is mainly because the level of economic inactivity on these shores is the highest of any region in the UK and any rise is something to worry about and needs double checking.

"Pfff," the boffins at the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment probably say.

"3,000 is just 'sample variability' and you shouldn't be getting yourself worked up."

"Pfff," First Minister Peter Robinson actually said while giving a speech last month at Queen's University and touching on the very subject of Northern Ireland's economic inactivity.

Then he was having a little dig at us in the media who do nothing but write negative stories about the economy.

The reason, he said, for such a position is that we've got a large student population, something which will bode well for the economy's future prospects.

Granted that's true and the latest stats show we've got a student population which represents 32% of the economically inactive. But the 3,000 rise in the March to May period is still worrying, coming as it does outside the end of term time and being seasonally adjusted to avoid any yearly spikes.

To put it into perspective, 27.3% of the population are now economically inactive here compared to a UK average of 22.9%.

That's a big difference and sounds much too handy to explain away by a large population of students.

Just now we can't lay our hands on the percentage of students which make up other regions' economically inactive number for comparison, but we'll find it and report back.

Anything to prove a point - one which has meant we didn't even have time to look at the other employment figures.


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