Last year was a record year for both the UK and Northern Ireland labour markets. Employment has never been higher and unemployment (for Northern Ireland) has never been lower. Given these labour market conditions one would assume that consumer confidence must be strong too? Not so. Previously having a job, or not having one, was a key determinant of whether a household or individual was in poverty. Over the last decade, however, a sustained period of below inflation wage growth and cuts to working-age welfare benefits has squeezed disposable incomes for those in work too.
Northern Ireland’s labour market continued to break records into the summer months. Unemployment fell to a new low of 2.8% and employment hit a record high of 779k jobs in Q2. That follows 14 consecutive quarters of growth. Looking at the private sector specifically shows a winning streak that is even longer, extending to five years. But can it last? There are signs that the jobs machine is slowing. The number added in the latest quarter marked a three-and-a-half year low. Meanwhile, services, the largest sector of the economy, saw its rate of growth almost grind to a halt.
Northern Ireland’s record breaking labour market has been in the spotlight for quite some time. The focus has been on unemployment hitting all-time lows and the number of jobs reaching all-time highs in Q2 2019. In terms of job numbers, Northern Ireland’s labour market is clearly in a good place, having recovered all the jobs lost in the recession and created tens of thousands of additional jobs too. But what about wages and earnings?
Northern Ireland’s labour market statistics have provided a plentiful source of positivity in recent years. Unemployment has hit lows that no economist forecasted and employment has never been higher. The latest batch of data in the Labour Force Survey (June – August 2019) reveals some more record highs (e.g. employment amongst males). However, there are a variety of indicators that suggest that the labour market is on the turn. These signs of a weakening labour market must be placed in the appropriate context; namely, Northern Ireland’s labour market has never been stronger. Indeed, Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate remains at the ridiculously low level of 2.9%, just a shade above last month’s record low of 2.8%.
As the new Prime Minister prepares to enter Downing Street, he can draw some comfort from data indicating that consumers, buoyed by the strong labour market, are keeping the economy ticking over. But the new PM inherits a big ‘to do’ list, from resolving the Brexit impasse to addressing concerns over global growth prospects.
The UK labour market remains in rude health, a key support for the household sector. In contrast, US and Chinese retail sales disappointed. Meanwhile, German growth rebounded in early 2019 but the economy remains fragile.
The labour market continues to be a source of positivity amidst the Brexit gloom. Northern Ireland’s employment rate – the proportion of people of 16-64 year olds working – hit a record high of 70.9%. Meanwhile the headline unemployment rate in the three-months to January 2019 is an eye-catching 3.5%. However, amongst the raft of labour market statistics the most meaningful jobs barometer was the Quarterly Employment Survey for Q4 2018. Continue reading
During the three months to November 2018, Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate fell to 3.4%. This compared with 4.1% in the previous quarter and was close to the record low of 3.1% posted in the Q1 2018. Continue reading
2018 was the Chinese year of the dog, but in this part of the world, it will go down as the year of the backstop, when promises around the Irish border came back to bite Theresa May. Indeed, some have said that Brexit as a whole was the one instance when the canine caught the car and then didn’t know what to do with it.