Jobless rate falls, but rise in those economically inactive 'depressing'
Unemployment in Northern Ireland is falling, but people are more likely to stay at home than go out to work after they leave the dole queue, latest figures suggest.
The Labour Force Survey yesterday said the unemployment rate in the province was 4% during July to September - a fall of 1.6% over the year and the lowest in almost 10 years.
It was below the UK average of 4.3% for the first time since 2013.
But the separate employment rate of 68.1% had fallen by 1.7% over the year.
And at nearly 29%, economic inactivity - which tracks those who are neither in work nor looking for work - was at its highest since 2010. Just 18% of those who were economically inactive wanted to be in work.
The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), which produces the figures, said: "Taken together, these changes suggest that recent decreases in unemployment are being offset by increasing numbers in economic inactivity rather than increasing numbers in employment."
The statistic for economic inactivity covers those aged 16 to 64 who are not working and not available to work, or seeking work.
The classification embraces those who are looking after a home, sick or disabled, or retired.
And Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the Ulster University economic policy centre, said that the rise in economic inactivity was the most depressing of all the statistics.
"Hence, it is realistic to pose the question: is the Northern Ireland economy really working?"
And Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: "Be clear - the Northern Ireland labour market is not in better shape than the UK."
Danske Bank economist Conor Lambe said that the contrast between the fall in unemployment and fall in the employment rate "implies that rather than the unemployment rate coming down as people move into work, people seem to be moving from being unemployed to being economically inactive".
The separate claimant count, which monitors the numbers of people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance, had fallen by 100 during October to reach 29,300.
It was the 20th month in a row in which there had been a fall in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits.
The October figure does not include new claimants, who will instead be claiming Universal Credit under changes to the welfare system.
Northern Ireland's unemployment rate was also below the EU rate of 7.6% and the Republic of Ireland's rate of 6.3%.