in Abu Dhabi
The State has a long way to go in its battle against unemployment, despite a 28,000 fall in the numbers signing on last year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned yesterday.
Figures published by the Central Statistics Office show the numbers on the Live Register fell by 3,300 on a seasonally adjusted basis in December to 402,800 from 406,100 in November, a month-on-month reduction of 0.1 per cent.
According to the unadjusted numbers, there were 395,411 people on the register last month, a fall of 28,322 on December 2012, when 423,733 people signed on.
The rate of unemployment fell to 12.4 per cent in December from 14 per cent a year earlier and 12.5 per cent in November. Alan McQuaid, economist with Merrion Stockbrokers, pointed out it fell by 0.1 percentage points each month through 2013.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, where he is leading an Enterprise Ireland trade mission, Mr Kenny cautiously welcomed the news. "The unemployment rate is down to 12.4 per cent and that's significant but it's still too high," he said.
“This year we want to see a real push,” he stressed. “The more jobs we have, the better for the economy and the better for our people. It’s heading in the right direction and I’m happy to note that but we still have a long way to go.”
Mr McQuaid echoed the Taoiseach’s remarks, saying that while there has been a steady decline from its peak of 15.1 per cent in February 2012, the jobless rate still remains a lot higher than would be desirable.
Davy analysts David McNamara and Conall MacCoille pointed out that 45 per cent, or 176,621, of those on the register were long-term unemployed – out of work for one year or more – and argued this indicated there is still considerable slack in the labour market. The number of long-term claimants was down 7,523 between December 2012 and last month.
Marie Sherlock, economist with the Republic's biggest trade union, Siptu, said it was not clear if those coming off the Live Register were going into employment, training or emigrating. She added the union was concerned that the figures for 2012 and 2013 indicate men have been signing off in much larger numbers than women.
The December numbers show 2,400 men left the register during the month, while just 900 women did so. Over the previous 12 months, the number of men claiming unemployment fell by 24,165, or 9 per cent, to 245,721, while the number of women signing on dropped by 4,157 or 2.7 per cent to 149,690.
At the same time, the number of women claiming long-term benefits increased by 2.2 per cent last year to 56,162. Mr McQuaid said the slow recovery in retailing, which traditionally employs large numbers of women, was partly responsible for the problem. He suggested a pick-up in consumer spending could see larger numbers of women returning to work.
Role of emigration
Almost 7,800 under-25s signed off the register between December 2012 and last month, with the total figure falling to 59,148 from 66,944. A number of analysts claimed that emigration played a role.
Mr McQuaid predicted that unemployment would continue to fall this year, particularly if industries such as construction and retail begin to recover and the overall rate of job creation continues.
The Quarterly National Household Survey, published last month, showed there were 58,000 more people at work in the Republic in the third quarter of 2013 than the same period in 2012.
A note from investment advisers Glas Securities said it was unclear if gains on this scale could be maintained this year and pointed out the Government's own forecast for average unemployment in 2014 was 12.4 per cent – "the same rate as recorded in December".