Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's unemployment rate falls again

But economists warn that long-term jobless levels continuing to rise

By Margaret Canning

Economic inactivity and long-term unemployment are climbing despite an overall fall in joblessness, latest statistics show.

The Northern Ireland Stastistics and Research Agency said the Northern Ireland unemployment rate fell by 0.5% from June to August to 7.3%.

And in September, the number of people on the dole fell by 600 to 61,600 – bringing the total drop in the last eight months to 3,300.

Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said long-term unemployment was still going up, despite the other positive signs.

Those on the dole for more than one year went up by 18% from 16,365 in September 2012 to 19,367 a year later.

Unemployment was disproportionately affecting young people between 18 to 24 – in that age group, the unemployment rate was 22.5% compared to 5.5% in those between 25 and 49.

Unemployment is now 0.8% below where it was one year ago, below the present UK average of 7.7%, and almost half the 13.8% rate for July in the Republic.

But the province's workforce continued to face economic inactivity, and the numbers of economically inactive grew by 8,000 over the quarter and by 14,000 over the year.

The rate of economic inactivity was 27.9% – the highest of 12 UK regions. A quarter of the inactive were sick or disabled, just over a quarter were looking after the family, 27% were students, 12% were retired and 9% were economically inactive for some other reason.

However, a DETI statistician said the increases merely reflected habitual fluctuation in economic inactivity.

Around 90% of the inactive did not want to work while the other 10% wanted to find work but were not actively seeking it and were not available to start a job.

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said an improved employment outlook "tends to have a knock-on impact on consumer and business confidence levels".

But she added: "Beneath the headlines large disparities in labour market progress remain across district councils in Northern Ireland.

"For example, in Derry-Londonderry and Strabane claimant count unemployment levels currently sit at 8.9% and 8.1% respectively.

"Higher unemployment levels in these areas are consistent with Danske Bank's latest consumer confidence index, which shows that the north west region has the lowest consumer confidence levels across Northern Ireland.

"Although many economic indicators are now starting to look much healthier, much work remains to be done. Local economic policy needs to remain focused on job creation, skills and investment so that the fruits of economic progress are widely distributed across the whole of Northern Ireland and across all age groups."

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster (left) also welcomed the fall in unemployment.

"Last week's investment conference demonstrated that Northern Ireland is a strategic investment location of choice for international investors in key growth sectors, with our highly skilled workforce being a key decision factor," she said.

"Any new foreign investment and export opportunities will help to provide quality jobs and opportunities for local people, contributing to the growth of our local economy."

More jobs are available, according to teh publication from NISRA. There were 698,390 employee jobs in June – up 3,240 over the quarter and 5,230 over the year.

A DETI statistician said there had been growth in the last five quarters but that half the increase had taken place in the last quarter to June.

Around 1,800 new jobs have been announced this month between call centre firm Stream (1,000), planemaker Bombardier (250 – plus another 230 in a resarch and development project), 260 in Terex and 40 in Telestack.

First Minister Peter Robinson has also said last week's investment conference was the most successful of three held by the Executive.

Belfast Telegraph