Northern Ireland has been hit harder by the economic crisis than any other UK region.
New figures show that six towns in the province are in the top 10 UK dole blackspots based on regional increases in claimants.
Magherafelt claimed the unenviable number one slot with an 168.3% increase in the number of people applying for unemployment benefit.
The news comes ahead of tomorrow’s GDP report, which is expected to show that the UK economy is officially in recession.
Cookstown came second in the UK league table of claimant increases by local authority with a jump of 113.3%.
Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said: “Magherafelt and Cookstown were ranked first and second respectively. These areas have been most affected due to their exposure to the construction industry.
“Magherafelt has the highest proportion of construction firms and employment than any other part of Northern Ireland.”
He added: “County Tyrone contains a number of manufacturing firms, such as Powerscreen, which make Northern Ireland one of the leading exporters of quarrying equipment in the world.
“The slump in global demand has seen these firms cut wages, staff and the length of their working week. This is also widespread throughout the manufacturing sector elsewhere in Northern Ireland.”
Other local areas, which featured in the top 10 areas which have experienced the biggest increase in people claiming unemployment benefit, were Dungannon (108.6% ), Banbridge (102.1%), Ballymoney (99.3%) and Limavady (97.7%).
The Construction Employers’ Federation (CEF) warned the Assembly and Government that tens of thousands more jobs hang in the balance unless funding is released for building projects.
John Armstong, CEF managing director, said: “These figures are just the tip of the iceberg — they do not take into consideration a significant proportion of the industry including migrant workers who have gone home, workers who have been put on short-term working and self-employed sub-contractors who have been laid off.
“The construction industry is a critical economic driver and if money is spent in this sector you will quickly get rewards. We have been flagging this up to the Assembly and Government for six months now.”
The findings, which cover the 12 months to November 2008, have been revealed by the Financial Times. South-east and south-west of England emerged as the other dole blackspots.
Magherafelt came out on top because its dole claimants shot up from 237 to 633 — representing an 168.3% increase.
Commenting on the findings, Nigel Meager, director of the Institute of Employment Studies, said it “takes only a small absolute number of new claimants to make a massive percentage change”.
“I still believe that the current recession is likely to be more evenly spread geographically in its unemployment impact than either of the last two recessions,” he said.
Absolute levels of unemployment in Northern Ireland compared to other regions remain low. But that will provide little comfort following the latest unemployment figures from the Office of National Statistics.
At the end of December the number of people out of work and claiming unemployment benefit soared to 35,900, a rise of 12,200 on the previous year’s figures.
And the jobs misery is set to continue as the economic crisis deepens, according to Mr Ramsey.
“In our view, the upward trend in the claimant count measure will continue with the total number of unemployed expected to climb above 50,000,” he said.
He believes that more than 1,500 people a month will claim unemployment benefit, which would take Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate towards 7%.
Commenting on yesterday’s unemployment figures, Mr Ramsey said: “Northern Ireland has not witnessed an annual increase of this scale since May 1982 (+27,700). In percentage terms, this represents an annual increase of 52% which is the sharpest rise in the number of unemployed since January 1976.”
It has also emerged that the number of redundancies almost doubled in Northern Ireland in 2008 compared to the previous year, climbing from 1,912 to 2,777.