Northern Ireland’s employment rate hit a record high of 70.3% in the last three months of 2018 while economic inactivity fell to 26.8%, according to the latest job figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
The latest Labour Market Report shows that the unemployment rate in the province reached 3.8% in December, down 0.3% over the year - below the UK average of 4%, the Irish Republic (5.3%) and the EU (average 6.7%).
While Northern Ireland continues to have the highest rates of economic inactivity in the UK at 26.8%, levels dropped by 0.9 percentage points over the last quarter of 2018 and by 1.6% compared to the same period in 2017
FSB NI head of external affairs Roger Pollen said the record rate was encouraging news.
“This demonstrates that despite the political and economic uncertainty which we face, business owners are continuing to run their firms, employ people and generate wealth.
“However, there is much to be done to improve the business landscape, as Northern Ireland has now gone for two years without ministers making decisions, which risks us being left behind on skills, infrastructure and business support.
“Today’s figures show what the private sector can do for the economy, which underlines the need to ensure it is not carelessly damaged.
“Accordingly, the next Northern Ireland Budget which is due shortly should continue to protect our SMEs through the continuation of existing rate reliefs, including industrial de-rating and the Small Business Rate Relief scheme, to ensure the economic landscape isn’t damaged further.
Richard Ramsey, the Ulster Bank chief economist for Northern Ireland, said it was important to recognise that the labour market was “a lagging indicator of economic activity”.
“We are effectively looking in the rear-view mirror in order to gauge the state of the economy. Looking ahead through the windscreen, it is clear that significant challenges lie ahead – a global and UK economic slowdown, Brexit and the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive.”
Stating that the latest PMI report from the Ulster Bank had signalled job losses amongst local in January for the first time in four years, he said: “It remains to be seen whether this flashing warning light is an accurate or premature indication of a turn in the labour market.”