Rise in cost of living in Northern Ireland a setback for those living off the state
Northern Ireland's claim to shame as the bearer of the UK's highest rate of economic inactivity is a "major structural problem," Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said.
She said economic inactivity would hinder "Northern Ireland's potential to deliver higher levels of sustainable, export-led economic growth" if it was not addressed.
The present rate for economic inactivity in Northern Ireland is 27.4% of the working age population, compared to the Welsh rate of 23.7%, a rate of 21.4% in Scotland and a UK average rate of 22.2%.
Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said the level of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland remained high in 2007, even when the economy was robust. In the quarter July to September 2007, the rate was 26.7%.
Mr Ramsey said: "Things then were as good as you could get. Anyone who wanted a job could get one.
"But there were people who weren't prepared to look for work at that stage."
But he said attitudes to joining the workforce among those who can may have changed, as increases in the cost of living made it harder to live on benefits.
"Living on benefits was a lot more attractive in 2007 than in 2013. And there were the jobs then, but not now."
The arrival of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania next month, when those countries will be granted the same rights to work in the UK as other EU citizens, could increase the competition for jobs.
"Whether they realise it or not, workers in Northern Ireland are competing for jobs with people from across Europe, even for jobs in Northern Ireland itself.
"It is a European labour market."
A consultation which will be launched early next year will canvass the views of the business, community and voluntary sectors on economic inactivity.
The strategic framework can be viewed at: www.delni.gov.uk/proposed-strategic-framework-document.