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NI job levels at record 70.3%, but economic inactivity still high


Roger Pollen
Roger Pollen
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland has record levels of employment at 70.3%, though economic inactivity remains the highest of anywhere in the UK, latest figures show.

The Labour Force Survey from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) shows that the employment rate has grown by 1.7 percentage points over the year to the final quarter of 2018, continuing a trend for rising numbers of jobs since late 2017.

And the unemployment rate was 3.8%, a slight fall of 0.3 percentage points over the year.

However, at 46%, a much larger percentage of Northern Ireland's jobless have been without work for more than a year, compared to 26% in the UK.

There was a slight fall of 1.6 percentage points in economic inactivity year-on-year, which is now 26.8%.

Economic inactivity measures the numbers of people who are neither in work nor looking for work.

But despite the growth, we still have the lowest employment rate in the UK, and also the UK's highest economic inactivity rate.

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However, Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said there had been a year-on-year fall of 19,000 in the numbers of people classed as economically inactive here.

And the number of people aged between 25 and 49 in the category was now at its lowest level in over six years.

In contrast, the UK as a whole is experiencing its joint lowest unemployment rate, its lowest inactivity rate and joint highest employment rate on record. The UK's jobless rate is now 4%, down by 0.3% on a year ago, and the lowest since 1975, while economic inactivity is now 21%.

Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said that the increase in employment and the fall in economic inactivity "demonstrates that despite the political and economic uncertainty which we face, business owners are continuing to run their firms, employ people and generate wealth".

But he added: "There is much to be done to improve the business landscape, as NI has now gone for two years without ministers making decisions, which risks us being left behind on skills, infrastructure and business support."

He said the next Northern Ireland Budget should implement measures to protect small to medium-sized businesses.

Mike Jakeman, senior economist at PwC, said: "We continue to expect 2019 to be a good year for UK workers.

"The big unknown, of course, remains the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, which could alter the outlook for the jobs market, wages and inflation significantly."

Belfast Telegraph