Job losses yet to be reflected in labour market figures

Image of the press release about Northern Ireland's labour market figures

Northern Ireland’s latest set of labour market statistics provides positive and negative news in equal measure. Both the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the official claimant count revealed falling levels and rates of unemployment.  However, rising levels of economic inactivity alongside disappointing rates of employment growth remain key causes of concern.

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Unemployment falling but NI is still working less

Northern Ireland’s latest claimant count figures provide some encouraging headlines.  The number of people claiming unemployment benefits (Jobseekers Allowance) fell by 1,000 last month to 42,000 – the lowest reading since January 2009. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit has fallen by an impressive 10,400 over the last year and is some 22,700 below the recent peak in February 2013 (64,700).

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Falling Claimant Count conceals the age-old problem of rising youth unemployment

Chart showing NI's youth unemployment rate significantly higher than the UK rate
Divergence between NI and UK rates of youth unemployment

Northern Ireland’s latest labour market statistics are something of a mixed bag.  The new DETI Minister Jonathan Bell will be pleased that the claimant count’s trend of falling unemployment has continued for a 28th consecutive month in April.  However, the Labour Force Survey’s wider measure of unemployment (not restricted to those in receipt of means-tested unemployment benefits) moved in the opposite direction in the latest quarter. The number of ILO unemployed increased by 6,000 in the latest quarter (Q1) relative to the fourth quarter of 2014. Meanwhile the headline unemployment rate rose from its 6-year low of 5.7% in Q4 to 6.2% for Q1 2015. The latter compares with an unemployment rate of 5.5% for the UK.  We can expect more divergence in the labour market performance of the UK and NI in the months ahead.

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Strong employment figures conceal generation game within

Northern Ireland’s claimant count recorded its 27th consecutive monthly fall in March. Last month saw the total claimant count fall by 1,000 to 42,500 with the majority of the decrease due to declining male unemployment (-700). Since December 2012, Northern Ireland’s claimant count has fallen by almost 20,000 cumulatively and is now at its lowest level in 6-years. However, more than half of the total rise (41,300) in unemployment that followed the downturn remains.

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Mancession has been and gone but challenge to activate the inactive remains

Economy photo

Throughout much of the downturn inflation and unemployment moved in the same direction – upwards. This combination was bad news for households’ budgets and the economy as a whole. 2013 proved to be a year of divergence with an economic recovery leading to falling levels of unemployment. However, with the annual rate of inflation remaining stubbornly above the Bank of England’s 2% target, a meaningful recovery in households’ finances was deferred. More recently, the collapse in the oil price has punctured the ‘cost of living crisis’ narrative. Rates of consumer price inflation and unemployment are again moving in the same direction. This time, however, it is good news for the labour market, households and the overall economy.

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