Growth in Northern Ireland jobs brings some positivity to local economy amid uncertainty of Brexit
The number of jobs in Northern Ireland has reached a record level of 773,750 with growth driven by the private sector, according to official figures.
And the separate labour force survey, also published yesterday, said the local unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.5% at the end of last year.
The findings bring some "positivity" amid the gloom of Brexit uncertainty, Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said.
But he warned that future data may be less cheerful after companies reported a slowdown in January.
According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), new jobs were being created in the services, manufacturing and construction industries.
Jobs in manufacturing were at their highest level since 2004.
However, while the local jobless rate was below the UK rate of 3.9%, the rate of long-term unemployment (those on the dole for more than a year) was 46.9%, compared to the UK's rate of 26.7%.
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The employment rate of 70.9% was another record high, while the economic inactivity rate was also down by 1.6 percentage points to 26.4%. However, that was still well above the UK's rate of 20.7%.
During February 14 people were made redundant.
That was the lowest monthly total since August of 13 years ago.
But confirmed redundancies over the last year at 2,354 were up 30% than the previous 12 months.
There were 565,480 private sector jobs, an increase over the quarter and over the year. And total employee jobs were 773,750, also a record level.
Mr Ramsey said the labour market was a source of positivity amid Brexit gloom as robust jobs growth continued throughout 2018.
And private companies had been the driver of jobs growth, adding 90,000 jobs in total since the nadir in employment in 2012.
Services jobs, which count roles in everything from estate agents to restaurants, hit a new record high of 628,730, he said, while manufacturing added 2,110 jobs over the year.
But he said the level of job creation concealed a deeper problem. "Northern Ireland's job creation performance has been encouraging from a numbers perspective.
"However, it is worth remembering that despite an additional 53,100 private sector jobs (between quarter two 2008 and quarter four 2018), private sector output (as of Q3 2018) is still 3% below where it was over a decade ago. This highlights the issue of job quality and poor productivity."
And he said that data for the first quarter of 2019 may tell a different story.
"Conditions within the private sector have deteriorated markedly in Q1 2019.
"This has been highlighted in the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland purchasing managers index (PMI).
"Indeed, private sector firms reported their first fall in employment in four years in January.
"In the past, the PMI has been a useful and accurate indicator of the direction of travel for the Northern Ireland economy.
"Recent surveys point to a marked slowdown/stagnation in private sector growth."