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Jobless rate in Northern Ireland stays at 5.8%, in spite of fall in claimants

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Unemployment in Northern Ireland has steadied at a rate of 5.8% and is showing "real" improvement on three years ago, it's been claimed.

The separate claimant count measure - the numbers of those signing on to claim benefits - was also down to 37,800 in January, a fall of 800.

In total, there were 10,300 fewer people claiming job seekers' allowance last month than there were in January 2015, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell welcomed the drop in claimant count but said the unemployment rate had not fallen on last year.

"It is important therefore that local businesses continue to develop through research and development, seeking new markets and promoting inward investment

At 4.2%, Northern Ireland still had the highest claimant count rate of 12 UK regions. Long-term unemployment - those who have been signing on for 12 months or more - had fallen by nearly 4%.

And while the unemployment rate of 5.8% was unchanged on last year, a spokesman for the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) said that it was down from 7.7% three years earlier. That drop was "greater than the statistical margin of error and likely to reflect real change".

But while long-term unemployment had fallen, at 51.7%, it was higher than the UK rate of 29.3%. And at 26.8%, Northern Ireland still had the highest rate of economic inactivity of the 12 UK regions.

At 17.5%, the unemployment rate among young people aged 18 to 24 had fallen slightly on the year before. But it remained much higher than the UK average of 11.7%. There were 10,069 under 25s claiming JSA during January, which was up by 229 on December, but down 2,432 over the year.

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said the labour market in Northern Ireland was performing "reasonably well".

But she said there could be difficulties on the horizon.

"Given the current financial market turmoil and other global economic pressures stemming from slower growth in China and emerging markets, Northern Ireland's labour market is holding up reasonably well with unemployment claimants continuing to fall.

"However, there are headwinds on the horizon."

Global risks were rising, she said, which could put pressure on "business investment levels, exports, growth and the hiring of new staff.

"In addition, heightened domestic risks stemming from the Brexit referendum will reduce investment appetite right across the UK at least until June 2016.

"The task of growing local employment levels is currently set against a very challenging backdrop and to be successful in this regard Northern Ireland policymakers and business leaders must remain focused on the fundamentals of economic growth."

Job creation, she said, required "relentless" focus on education, skills, infrastructure, technological advancement, connectivity, trade and investment."

Belfast Telegraph