Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Sunnier outlook on Northern Ireland jobs: Biggest monthly drop in dole claimants for 11 years

Angela McGowan
Angela McGowan

The latest set of data to hint at a more sunny outlook for Northern Ireland's economy shows the biggest fall in the number of people claiming benefits for more than a decade.

The dole queue fell by 800 in June compared to May, the largest monthly decrease since August 2002, according to figures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

That represents a 1.3% fall, slightly behind the UK average of 1.4%.

While a welcome relief for those charged with driving the economy here, Northern Ireland's job market still has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the UK.

The total claimant count rate stands at 63,000 or 7% here – the second highest among the 12 UK regions and well above the UK average of 4.4%.

June was the 39th consecutive month which Northern Ireland has had the highest or second highest UK regional unemployment rate, according to DETI.

Still, there was more cheer from other parts of the data release.

The headline unemployment rate fell 0.5% for the period from March to May to 7.8%, the same as the UK average.

And the trend of rising youth unemployment has been halted by a 2.9% uplift in the unemployment rate for 18-24-year-olds to 18.5%.

But the Achilles' heel of Northern Ireland's job market, the economic inactivity rate, showed no signs of abating.

The economically inactive group are those of working age and not actively looking for work and their number climbed by 1,000 in the three months to the end of May.

At 27.5% of the working age population, Northern Ireland retains the top spot of all UK regions when it comes to the size of its economically inactive population and the issue continues to drag on economic recovery.

That meant that Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, normally robust in the face of recent mediocre jobs data, was relatively muted in her comments.

"While we would wish to see even more people leaving unemployment, the current labour market indicators suggest that some progress is being made," she said.

Angela McGowan (above), Danske Bank chief economist in Northern Ireland, said overall the data has help paint a more confident picture of the economy.

"The local labour market continues to improve with a hefty and very welcome fall in monthly claimants," she said. The economic environment has improved in quarter two this year with global conditions much better this year relative to last.

Meanwhile, Roger Gilpin of Gilpin Executive Search said he's seen a 25% uplift in business over the last six months. He said: "Within executive recruitment we have witnessed a significant uplift. Late last year companies began to seek talent to deliver new strategies for new markets.

"This was the forerunner to the increased intake in recruits at all levels generally, this year."

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