Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland unemployment rate at lowest level on record

NI's unemployment rate is now at 2.5%
NI's unemployment rate is now at 2.5%
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate has fallen to a record level of 2.5% with weekly wages also increasing over the year, according to research.

The Northern Ireland labour market report for July to September also reports a record high in the employment rate at 72.3%.

Economic inactivity, a measure covering those neither in work nor looking for work, was also down by 1.9 percentage points over the year.

At 25.8%, it’s now at one of its lowest levels for Northern Ireland.  Nonetheless, the rate was still the highest for economic inactivity across all 12 UK regions — UK wide, economic inactivity affects just 20.8% of the working age population.

The unemployment rate has fallen by 0.6 percentage points over the quarter, and by 1.3 percentage points over the year, to hit 2.5%.  That compares with a rate of 3.8% UK-wide, and 3.8% in the UK as a whole. 

And the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings said that median gross weekly earnings for full-time employees in Northern Ireland in April was £535 — an increase of £16.80 or 3.3% over the year.

However, it was £50 lower than the UK median pay packet of £585 per week. 

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At at 72.3%, Northern Ireland’s employment rate is still well below the UK average of 76%.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that while there were “record lows” in the report, there were still signs that the labour market cycle had turned from growth to contraction.

He predicted that a deterioration in business conditions highlighted in other surveys would begin to have a more marked effect on the jobs market figures.

“A surge in self-employment has been accompanied by a reduction in the number of ‘employees’ working.

“Meanwhile the total number of hours worked and average hours worked has eased back from its highs earlier in the year.

“Given the marked deterioration in business conditions in Q3 and Q4 it is expected that this will increasingly become evident within the labour market in the coming quarters.”

Mr Ramsey said that while the employment rate had reached a record high, there had been a fall in the number of employees.

But he said the rise in the employment rate could possibly be explained by growth in self-employment.

The economist said: “Having peaked at 734,000 in quarter two, the number of employees declined by 1.2% quarter-on-quarter in quarter three to 725,000. 

“This is largely a male phenomenon with male employees decreasing by 2.5%, or 9,000, in quarter three.”

Self-employment rose to a new record high of 139,000 in the third quarter, up by 13.9% over the year. 

Mr Ramsey added: “The surge in self-employment is even more staggering when looking at men.  “Male self-employment jumped by 7.3% quarter on quarter, and a whopping 22.6% year on year.”

But he said that rather than signalling a rise in entrepreneurship, the figure was likely to reflect males feeling forced to turn to self-employment.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) report said there had been 84 proposed redundancies and 82 confirmed redundancies notified to the Department for the Economy during October.

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