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Economic inactivity on rise despite latest fall in Northern Ireland jobless rate

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's unemployment rate has hit its lowest level for a decade at 3.9% - but economic inactivity is still on the rise, latest figures show.

The labour force survey reported the jobless rate for October to December, the joint lowest since 2008 and lower than the UK average of 4.4%.

But the province continues to have the worst rate of economic inactivity in the UK at 28.4% - up by 2.3% over the year, an increase of 32,000 people.

Economic inactivity covers those who are neither in work nor looking for work for reasons including early retirement, sickness and looking after the home.

Danske Bank chief economist Conor Lambe said persistently high economic inactivity was another policy area neglected in the absence of an Executive.

"Tackling the issue will require a concentrated effort from both government and businesses," he added. "But this will be difficult to achieve in the absence of the devolved institutions and is another point to add to an already long list of why it was so disappointing to see the political talks collapse last week."

There was also a fall of 11,000 in the number of people in employment year-on-year to 834,000. However, quarter-on-quarter there was an increase of 10,000 in the numbers of people in employment.

And the separate claimant count for last month, monitoring those signing on to claim Jobseeker's Allowance was 3.1% of the workforce, down by 700 to reach 28,400.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the fall in the unemployment rate was encouraging, but added that rising economic inactivity and a fall of those in work by 11,000 year-on-year was "more meaningful and worrying than the encouraging news that the unemployment rate is at a 10-year-low".

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