Concerns remain for jobs market despite unemployment low
Northern Ireland's unemployment rate has hit the joint lowest level on record at 3.2% - but concerns remain over the health of the jobs market in the province.
The Labour Force Survey for November to January said there had been a 2.6% year-on-year drop in the unemployment rate, a fall which the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) said was "significant".
The decrease left Northern Ireland with a lower unemployment rate than the UK, at 4.3%, the EU at 7.3% and the Republic of Ireland at 6.2%.
Despite falling unemployment, the province is expected to have the joint-weakest economic growth of the UK regions at just 1% this year.
The rate of long-term unemployment - those who had been jobless for more than a year - was up by more than 3.3 percentage points to hit 46.6%, well above the UK tally of 25.8%.
The employment rate was now 69.8%, an increase of 1.7 percentage points over the quarter to just under 70%.
Nisra said the increase was "statistically significant" and "significantly above" the rate of five years ago.
There was also a record high in private sector jobs, with a rise of more than 13,800 during 2017, taking the tally to 756,030. And at more than 615,000, the services sector accounted for the biggest chunk of jobs.
However, the number of public sector jobs in the province was now 9.5% below series peak during 2009.
The separate claimant count - the numbers of people claiming jobseekers' allowance or universal credit - had fallen by 100 people to 28,700 during February.
There was also a slight fall in the rate of economic inactivity - the numbers of people who are neither in work nor looking for work - over the quarter to 27.8%, though it was up by more than 1.5% over the year. There were 589,000 people classed as economically inactive in the Labour Force Survey. And Northern Ireland's rate of economic inactivity was far above the UK average of 21.2%. Ulster University senior economist, Dr Esmond Birnie, said the employment rate here was still lagging behind the UK rate of 75.2%.
He added: "Ten years on from the banking crisis, there is little sign of trend growth in Northern Ireland's employment rate.
"If anything, the gap relative to the UK average has widened."
And he said that the unemployment rate was not yet showing the impact of a large number of redundancies announced in the first few months of 2018 at employers including Kilroot power station owner AES, Williams Industrial Services and Schlumberger.
While the employment rate in Northern Ireland still trailed the UK as a whole, there had been growth in employee jobs at businesses of 15,090 during the year to hit 756,030.
During February 2018, there were 238 confirmed redundancies.
And a total of 1,815 confirmed redundancies across the year was actually down 49% from the previous year's tally of 3,550.