Belfast Telegraph

Percentage of Northern Ireland people in work now at record high

Encouraged: Richard Ramsey
Encouraged: Richard Ramsey
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The Northern Ireland employment rate hit a new record high of 71.7% for the three months to May, but economists and business leaders here have warned against complacency.

At 3.1%, the unemployment rate remained below the UK average of 3.8%, while long-term unemployment fell to its lowest rate in almost a decade.

Although a record, the 71.7% employment rate is still well below the 76% average across the UK.

The July labour market report from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) featured a series of new records.

The number of people in work over the three months to May 2019 was a record 873,000, some 24,000 more than during that same period in 2018 and 9,000 up on the previous quarter.

Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey said that while the pace of employment growth had slowed to half the rate that occurred in 2018, the recent employment growth appeared to relate to full-time work as opposed to part-time.

Turning to the record employment rate of 71.7% for 16-64-year-olds, Mr Ramsey indicated that the picture was not the same for all age groups.

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At 49.4%, the employment rate for 16-24-year-olds, who were hit hardest during the recession, remained below the pre-downturn level and well behind older age cohorts.

"Overall, the latest labour market report is encouraging but it should be remembered that the labour market is a lagging indicator of economic activity," said the economist.

"Business conditions and confidence today are not what they were three to six months ago."

Referring to last week's Stormont paper warning that thousands of Northern Ireland jobs could be lost in the event of a no-deal Brexit, he said: "Attention focused on the potential for a sharp increase in unemployment, with at least 40,000 jobs at risk, based on EU export exposure.

"By way of context, 41,640 jobs were lost in the last recession. It is expected that a weakening in the labour market will become more apparent in late 2019 and early 2020.

"A no-deal Brexit outcome will make that deterioration deeper and more obvious."

Roger Pollen, of the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland, welcomed the figures but warned they should not allow for complacency.

"Several economic indices have indicated signs of a slowdown ahead, including FSB's most recent Small Business Index, which showed investment intentions at a two-year low." Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts added: "Our levels of economic inactivity remain stubbornly high and while our employment rate is increasing, we still have room for improvement.

"To achieve a step-change in our local economy, a radical reboot of economic policy is needed."

Danske Bank chief economist Conor Lambe said: "When compared against Northern Ireland's historical labour market data, these latest figures paint a relatively positive picture.

"But when compared nationally, while the local unemployment rate is lower, Northern Ireland still lags behind the wider UK on some metrics."

Belfast Telegraph