Numbers on Live Register drop to 14.3%


THE UNEMPLOYMENT rate declined to 14.3 per cent in December, as the numbers signing on to the Live Register fell by 3,300 from November. However, the proportion of long-term unemployed remains stubbornly high, at 41.6 per cent compared to 35.5 per cent in December 2010.

The month-on-month decrease of 0.7 per cent indicates that on a seasonally adjusted basis, there were 443,200 people signing on the Live Register in December 2011. Given the typical monthly increase for employment in December, in unadjusted terms, there were 434,784 people signing on during the month, a decrease of 2,295 (0.5 per cent) over the year.

While the marginal decrease is welcome, as Alan McQuaid, chief economist with Bloxham Stockbrokers points out, the jobless rate in 2011 averaged 14.2 per cent, up from 13.7 per cent in 2010, 11.8 per cent in 2009 and 6.4 per cent in 2008.

According to Mr McQuaid, this highlights “the huge task facing the Government in stabilising the labour market and bringing down the jobless rate on a sustainable basis”.

Mr McQuaid also attributes some of December’s decline to emigration. “Rather than an underlying improvement in employment conditions here at home, it is clear that emigration is playing a big part in keeping down the numbers signing on.”

Avine McNally, assistant director with the Small Firms Association, also expressed concern with the figures.

“What is also concerning about the continuing levels of job losses is that our ability to create new jobs is being damaged by rising business costs, uncertainty in the economy and limited access to credit . . . There is a clear need for the Government to now prioritise these issues to stop further job losses in 2012,” she said.

The proportion of long-term unemployed also remains high.

While the rate of increase in long-term claimants has stabilised – an annual rise of 55.9 per cent was recorded in January as opposed to 16.4 per cent in December – in December 2010 64.5 per cent of all claimants were short term, but this declined to 58.4 per cent in December 2011, at 180,798, an annual rise of 25,474.

The statistics for December show that while the number of male claimants fell by 9,079 (-3.1 per cent) to 279,723, the volume of female claimants increased by 6,784 (+4.6 per cent) to 155,061.

John Fahey, economist with Ulster Bank, does not expect the situation to improve this year.

“In terms of the outlook for the labour market, it looks as if the economy will not have enough momentum to make any meaningful inroads into the jobless rate this year and we expect the jobless rate to average over 14 per cent again in 2012,” he said.