Northern Ireland ends 2019 with near record low-levels of unemployment

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Northern Ireland ended 2019 with a near record low unemployment rate of just 2.7%, despite 3,041 redundancies throughout the year.

The rate of unemployment at 2.7% in Northern Ireland is the lowest during the 8-year period of 2011 to 2019, according to information from the official statistics agency, Nisra. An analysis of the unemployment rate between 2011 and 2019 shows that unemployment in Northern Ireland peaked in 2013 when 7.5 percent of the population were unemployed, compared with just 2.7 percent at the end of 2019.

This new data set comes with the comparable information that in 2019, the employment rate, the percentage of working age adults in employment, hit a record high of 72.3%, however, this is still the second lowest employment rate among the 12 UK regions.

When asked directly for comment, a spokesperson for Nisra said that: “These trends are similar to those in the rest of the UK, where unemployment is at a joint record low with employment being at one of its highest points, while economic inactivity is also at one of the lowest rates on record.”

This article provides two graph inserts of the data that shows the employment rate in Northern Ireland from 2011 to 2019, alongside the unemployment rate for the same period. During this time period the employment rate has fluctuated between a low of 67.1% in 2012 and a high of 72.3% in 2019, while the unemployment rate has wavered between a low of 7.5% in 2013 and a high of 2.7% in 2019.

Despite EY (Ernst & Young) downgrading its economic outlook for Northern Ireland in the past year, the labour market here continues to perform close to all-time record levels.

A separate set of figures from the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES), which surveys about 6,000 companies suggests the number of employee jobs reached a new high of 782,670 in September. The survey covers all employers with 25 or more employees and all public sector employers.

The data insert for the rate of unemployment shows that despite what seemed to be an increase rate of unemployment between 2011 and 2013, between 2014 and 2019 the data dropped significantly and continues to hit record levels year after year.

When we analyse the graphical insert for the rate of unemployment it shows us that despite a drop from 2011 to 2012 and a further drop between 2016 and 2017, there has been a general increase of the percentage of those in employable jobs every year, and that the number has now also hit record levels in 2019, with a sharp increase of 3.1% between 2018 and 2019.

Despite the record setting figures of unemployment in Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank’s chief economist Richard Ramsey had said that the performance of the Northern Ireland economy in the latter half of 2019 was dismal.

He said that while NI had ended the decade with record low levels of unemployment, he characterised most of the last decade as a lost one for wages. He also pointed out that the growth in wages had failed to match the rate of inflation.

According to the survey by QES, most of the growth came from the services sector, which grew over the year by 1.9%, or 12,110 jobs, to 635,580 jobs. It suggests that the private sector added almost 13,000 jobs over the year, an increase of 2.3%, to a record high of 573,430.

The UK as a whole has experienced what has been called a “jobs miracle” in the recovery from the financial crisis and it is evidenced in the data that Northern Ireland is a beneficiary of this. This makes reference to a labour market that is strong in comparison to weak economic growth.

Hannah McSorley
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