Numbers working dwindle but ranks of bigwigs swell


ANALYSIS:OUTPUT AND employment are the two most important measures in assessing whether an economy is growing. Later this month the output figures – in the form of GDP/GNP – will be published for the first quarter of the year. Yesterday the jobs numbers for that period were released.

They caused few surprises and reflect what other indicators have been suggesting: an economy that is still down and, if not quite out, then one still showing little sign of getting back on its feet.

Not a single one of the 14 sectors covered by yesterday’s release is as yet showing strong, sustained and uninterrupted jobs growth. That said, the figures could have been worse, particularly given the weakening of foreign demand as Europe flirts with recessionary relapse.

Although the numbers at work fell back in the first three months of the year (and previous figures were revised down by a few thousand) there were more people working than the post-bubble low point, plumbed six months ago.

Moreover, and as the first chart shows, the size of the most recent decline was small compared to what happened in 2010. It was almost inconsequential when compared with the carnage of 2008-2009 when the economy was in Greek-style meltdown.

On that depressing subject, yesterday’s figures showed that only Greece and Spain had higher rates of jobless among the 27 EU countries at the end of last year. Worse still, the Irish rate rose to a new high of just under 14.8 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

As has been the case historically, that rate would be even higher were it not for emigration. Compared with Spain, for instance, where almost all those who lose their jobs remain in the labour force, Ireland has seen a large contraction in its work force.

Over the past two years there has been a net decline of 70,000 people in jobs, but the increase in the numbers formally unemployed has grown by half that. Much of the reason is undoubtedly accounted for by emigration. And most of that, in turn, is likely to be accounted for by unskilled young men who have given up on finding a job. Of the 40,000 who have checked out of the workforce over the past two years, seven out of eight were men.

By comparison to these unfortunates, bigwigs seem to be having a great recession. Those classified as working as managers, directors and senior officials numbered 141,000 five years ago when the figures were first collected. Now there are 146,000 of them, a record high. Over a period when companies downsized or ceased to exist and the public sector has started contracting it is astonishing that the numbers of chiefs is rising while their Indian subordinates continue to dwindle.

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