Northern Ireland jobless rate lowest for decade but level of economic inactivity up
The number of people signing on for unemployment benefits in Northern Ireland has gone up for the first time in five years, according to new figures.
The claimant count was 29,200 in December, up by 100 from November and the first increase since January 2013, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency said.
However, the separate labour market survey for September to November said the unemployment rate here is now 3.8% - the lowest reported figure in over a decade, and below the UK average of 4.3%.
There was also an increase of 0.6 percentage points to 69% in the employment rate over the quarter, though it was down slightly on the same quarter a year earlier.
And the labour market survey also shows that Northern Ireland's rate of economic inactivity - covering those neither in work nor looking for work - was the highest since 2010 at 28.2%.
In the UK as a whole the employment rate was 75.3%, while the economic inactivity rate among the working age population was 21.2%.
Overall, the claimant count level of 29,200 was down 35,600 on January 2013. Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said it would be wrong to use its lower unemployment rate to conclude that Northern Ireland's labour market was in healthier condition than Britain.
"While the local unemployment rate compares favourably with the UK it would not be right to draw the conclusion that Northern Ireland's labour market is outperforming the UK. It is not. Invariably economic inactivity and employment rates speak louder than unemployment rates.
"With both these measures, the UK economy continues to make steady progress. The UK's employment and inactivity rates hit record highs and lows respectively in November."
Danske Bank economist Conor Lambe said the quarterly increase in the employment rate was positive, adding: "Looking forward, we think that the economy will add more jobs in the year ahead, but we expect the average rate of employee jobs growth in 2018 to be lower than in 2017.
"We also expect the average unemployment rate in 2017 to be around 4.7% and to fall to 4.1% in 2018, both significantly lower than the 5.8 % observed in 2016.
"However, the recent increases in Northern Ireland's economic inactivity rate means that this expected fall in the annual unemployment rate is not as positive as it might have first appeared."