Employment numbers top 2.5m for the first time

Largest increase was in accommodation and food services which jumped by 29.8%

The number of people employed in the Irish economy has risen above 2.5 million for the first time.

Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show that 229,100 more people were employed in the Republic last year, up 10.1 per cent on 2020 at 2,506,000 – a new record.

The figure is nearly 150,000 higher than total employment prior to the pandemic in 2019 and comes on the back of increased participation in the labour force, particularly among women.

The CSO’s latest Labour Force Survey says there were 2.63 million people in the labour force in the final quarter of 2021, an increase of 214,800 or 8.9 per cent over the year. This included 127,400 people classified as unemployed or in receipt of the Government’s Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).


The participation rate stood at 65.1 per cent, up from 60.6 per cent a year earlier and ahead of the 62.6 per cent recorded in the pre-Covid fourth quarter of 2019. The participation rate is a measure of the economy’s active workforce, in other words those working and those seeking work.

The number of men in the labour force increased by 6.5 per cent (+85,100) to 1.39 million while the number of women was 11.7 per cent (+129,600) higher at 1.24 million.

Greater opportunities

This represents a participation rate for men of 70.3 per cent and, for women, 60.1 per cent. Prior to the pandemic the participation rate for women was 56 per cent.

One of the most striking features of the Covid crisis has been the increased number of women in the workforce, perhaps suggesting that the shift to remote working, instead of constraining women, is facilitating greater opportunities for of employment.

The CSO figures indicate the Covid-adjusted rate of unemployment dropped to 7.4 per cent in the final quarter of 2021. The joblessness rate has risen subsequently on the back of restrictions imposed over Christmas to halt the spread of the Omicron variant. It is expected to decline in the coming months.

The survey also showed that absences from work fell by 14.7 per cent to 252,100, delivering a 9.6 per cent (6.8 million hours) rise in the number of hours worked per week.

The number of hours worked per week were higher than a year ago in almost all sectors and were approaching 2019 levels in most sectors. Across the economy as a whole, the 77.6 million hours worked just edged ahead of the 77.5 million recorded in the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic commenced.

The largest increase in employment, according to the fourth quarter data, was in the accommodation and food service category, where it jumped 29.8 per cent, or by 37,100 people.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist