Belfast Telegraph

Jobs' data sheet filled with signs of hardship

By David Elliott

Jobs Wednesday comes around quickly. We on the business desk are big fans of the monthly employment statistics because they provide plenty of insight in to a facet of the economy close to all our hearts.

That and the fact the varying measures tend to offer a bit of contradiction, one which is always interesting to analyse, at least for us and the other numbers fans out there.

But yesterday most of the data was singing from the same hymn sheet, one which contained songs of hardship rather than of joy.

We've pointed out before that the headline unemployment rate may not be as accurate as the claimant count, being that the former is an estimate and the latter is derived from hard, and in this case cold, facts.

Recently there has been something of a divergence between the two with the unemployment estimate falling while the claimant count has continued to rise, but this month both pointed north.

These aren't encouraging numbers but before we get too downbeat lets look at a few comparisons.

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment release rightly points out that we're still lower than the UK average of 8%, the European Union average of 10.3% and that of our nearest neighbours across the border at 14.6%.

Were they looking for a bit more of a wow factor they could have pointed to Greece where 23% of people are out of work or Spain where just shy of 25% of people are looking for a job.

A quick look at the Central Intelligence Agency (yes, the CIA) World Factbook - fast becoming a favourite source of global information for this desk - also shows that Kosovo had an unemployment rate of 45% while in Qatar only 0.4% of people are out of work.

But we digress.

In essence we're not doing too bad overall but there is a bit of a worrying jump in the number of people out of work in the 18-24-year-old category, the business leaders of tomorrow.

Traditionally, this is the age group which suffers most during a downturn and this one is no different.

For graduates, now saddled with monstrous debts from having to pay for their education, that's grim news and also won't fill the school leavers getting their A-Level results today with much confidence.

Politicians will hope yesterday's job numbers are a blip to what has so far been a relatively robust performance by the job market in Northern Ireland and let's hope that comes to pass.

As this column is wont to repeat, the job market is a lagging indicator of economic health and the worry is that we're only now starting to see a true reflection of the economy from six months ago.

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