Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's employment level rise is at a 17-year high

But large number of jobless youth still cause for concern, says expert

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's workforce has grown at its fastest rate for almost 20 years, but is still being hampered by high levels of youth unemployment.

An extra 6,450 entered the workforce in September - the biggest quarterly rise witnessed since quarter two in 1997.

And the latest surge in job numbers is down to the private sector - representing more than 90% of the new positions.

But Northern Ireland's youth unemployment rate - those between 18 and 24 years old - continues to be a major concern, according to the Labour Force Survey.

Dole queues also shortened once again last month, with 700 fewer claiming unemployment benefit. That brings the number of those claiming to 51,200 in November - the lowest since July 2009.

It means a total drop of 8,800 in the unemployment claimant figures over the last 12 months.

Despite shortening dole queues in Northern Ireland, they are still decreasing slower than the rest of the UK.

Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey said the figures from the latest Quarterly Employment Survey for September represented "the strongest set of job creation figures since the recovery began".

"We are now seeing employment growth like we haven't seen since 1997," he said.

"Almost 70% of the jobs lost during the downturn have been recouped.

"There are now more people employed in the services industry than there were at the pre-recession peak in Q2 2008.

"Conversely, employment within the construction sector, although increasing by over 1,000 in Q3, remains some 36% below its pre-recession peak in Q4 2007.

"But under 25s are seeing this growth, and thinking - we aren't part of this."

He said Northern Ireland's level of youth unemployment remained significantly higher than the UK average.

"Northern Ireland's youth unemployment rate began the year north of 20% and looks as if it will end the year still above that worrying one-in-five level," he said.

"The latest youth unemployment rate of 21.2% compares unfavourably with the UK's 14.7% rate.

"Clearly the under-25s are failing to experience Northern Ireland's labour market recovery."

The split between Protestants and Catholics in the Northern Ireland workforce narrowed in 2013 - with 51% and 49% respectively.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the latest overall figures provided yet another positive sign for Northern Ireland's economy.

"Both the unemployment rate and the number of unemployment benefit claimants have decreased over the quarter and the year," she said.

"In addition, the number of employee jobs continues to increase, representing the tenth consecutive quarterly increase in this measure."

Belfast Telegraph