Slight rise in unemployment but trend still down over year

The headline figure may be low but the economy faces other 'historic' employment challenges
The headline figure may be low but the economy faces other 'historic' employment challenges

Unemployment in the province remains historically low latest figures show though there was was a slight rise in the number of unemployed in the quarter between April and June.

The latest details from the NI statistics agency NISRA show that overall the jobless total at 3.8% was down 1.5% over the past year and still lower than the UK average, the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.

The employment and inactivity rates both decreased over the quarter but increased over the year.

At 69.3% the employment rate is significantly above rates estimated in 2013 but remains below the UK (75.6%) and the lowest of the UK regions.

The economic inactivity rate (27.9%) is similar to rates five years ago and continues to be the highest of the UK regions.

Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at busines group the FSB said the headline figure disguised a “concerning” situation.

“While our rate of unemployment rate is historically low and below the UK average, the level of people in work lies considerably below the overall UK rate,” he said.

“The employment figures released today are somewhat concerning with unemployment increasing by 0.6% over the quarter while the employment rate has decreased by 0.4%.

“Indeed, when compared over the year, we can see that the actual level of employment has barely increased in 12 months.

“If the challenge of economic inactivity is not addressed, businesses will struggle to find staff to fill the jobs of the future – a situation that may well be exacerbated by Brexit. Government should be seeking to incentivise firms to take on people who are long-term unemployed by providing a one-year National Insurance holiday for firms that hire those furthest from the labour market.

Danske Bank chief economist Conor Lambe said: “To really understand the performance of a labour market, it’s important to look at more than just the headline rate of unemployment. Northern Ireland still has the highest rate of economic inactivity across the 12 UK regions. The percentage of unemployed people who have been without a job for one year or more is 63.1%, much higher than the 26.7 per cent observed for the whole UK.

“The Northern Ireland labour market is in relatively good shape, but challenges such as these still need to be addressed.”

Ulster Bank NI economist Richard Ramsey said: “Looking ahead, Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate may struggle to stay below 4% and that of the UK as a whole, currently 4%.

“But an unemployment rate of sub-5% will still represent ‘low unemployment’.