Unemployment rate falls to 11.8 per cent in March

Long-term unemployment still ‘acute’ with 45.8% signing on for more than a year

There was a 1,400 drop in the number of men claiming benefits in the State in March, while the number of women claimants fell by 300. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

There was a 1,400 drop in the number of men claiming benefits in the State in March, while the number of women claimants fell by 300. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Wed, Apr 2, 2014, 14:28

The unemployment rate fell to 11.8 per cent in March, the lowest level in almost five years.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office show the number of people signing on the Live Register fell by 1,800 last month, marking the 21st month of successive decline in the unemployment rate.

Long-term unemployment remains a significant problem however, with 179,335 people, or 45.8 per cent of all claimants in March, signing on for 12 months or more.

The total number of people on the register, which includes casual and part-time workers as well as those on Jobseekers Allowance, is down 8 per cent or 33,900 since the same month last year.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number stood at 396,900 for March. This represents an unemployment rate of 11.8 per cent, down from 11.9 per cent in February.

The fall was most marked among males, with a drop of 1,400 recorded in the number of men on the register in the month, compared to 300 women.

The number of male claimants decreased by 25,807, or 9.6 per cent, to 243, 189 in the 12 months to the end of March, while female claimants fell by 8,049, or 5.2 per cent, to 148, 043 in the period.

There was a significant difference between the declines in short-term and long-term claimants, with the number of people signing on for 12 months or more falling by just 4.6 per cent in the last year, compared to a drop of 10.6 per cent for short-term claimants.

The CSO release also includes figures on the number of people enrolled in labour activation programmes, primarily the long-term unemployed, who are not included in the Live Register figures. There were 85,119 people taking part in February, up 2 per cent or 1,698 on the same month last year.

Commenting on the figures, Investec chief economist Philip O’Sullivan said that while the improvement in the headline Live Register figures was welcome, the problem of long-term unemployment remains “acute”.

“Tackling this issue remains a major priority for policymakers,” he said.

“While the Irish standardised unemployment rate is now inside the Eurozone (whose unemployment rate was 11.9 per cent in February) for the first time since late 2008, that is not much by way of consolation for those awaiting a return to work.”

Mr O’Sullivan added that there are “tell-tale signs that emigration remains a factor” in the declining numbers signing on, with the number of claimants under the age of 25 falling by 11.5 per cent in the year to the end of March, compared to a fall of 7.3 per cent in those aged over 25 in the same period.

Also commenting on the long-term unemployment figures, Isme chief executive Mark Fielding said the Government’s focus should remain on reducing business costs and increasing competitiveness if jobs were to be created.

“The drive for jobs must not be sabotaged by the demands for wage increases, which will simply stall any fragile recovery as the cost of labour is by far the most significant driver of business costs for most enterprises - particularly for micro and small businesses,” he said.

“Despite recent cost improvements, due to the recession, Ireland remains a high cost location for a range of key business inputs and pressure is mounting on a number of costs including wages, property, utilities, transport and credit.”

Davy analyst Conall Mac Coille said today’s figures should “provide reassurance that the recovery in the Irish economy continues, addressing any lingering concerns following the news that Irish GDP contracted by 0.3 per cent in 2013”.

“Jobs growth appears to have been sustained in 2014, consistent with business sentiment surveys that suggest companies expect to expand their employment,” he added.

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