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Unemployment falls to record low of 3.1% in Northern Ireland


Richard Ramsey, chief economist at Ulster Bank

Richard Ramsey, chief economist at Ulster Bank

Richard Ramsey, chief economist at Ulster Bank

Unemployment in Northern Ireland has hit a record low of 3.1%, with a 2.1% fall over the last year signalling "real change" in the jobs market, according to official figures.

But the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) also said that more than 300 people were made redundant in April - the highest number in 18 months.

The number of people claiming benefits, meanwhile, rose by 200 to 29,000 during the same period.

The figures could reflect the impact of manufacturing job loss announcements earlier this year - hitting firms such as Wrightbus, Williams Industrial Services and Schlumberger - as well as the effects of shop closures by Toys R Us.

However, the unemployment rate for January to March was the lowest since records began in 1995.

It was down 0.8 percentage points on the previous quarter, and down 2.1 percentage points on the same period 12 months earlier.

Nisra said that the 2.1% year-on-year fall in unemployment reflected "real change". The rate was below the UK average of 4.2% and the lowest of all the UK's regions.

However, of Northern Ireland's unemployed people, 51% had been unemployed for a year or more, compared to the overall UK rate of 25.3%.

At 28%, the rate of economic inactivity, which covers people who are neither in work nor looking for it for reasons including illness and study, remained the highest of all UK regions.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the record low in joblessness masked other problems. "Long-standing challenges related to economic inactivity, job quality and productivity remain," he added.

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