Jobs: the ultimate barometer of economic health

Cantillon: Latest CSO numbers reflect positive trend in employment levels

Employment on the up (unemployment down). Photograph: Alan Betson

Employment on the up (unemployment down). Photograph: Alan Betson


Wednesday marked something of a red-letter day for the economy. Total employment eclipsed its pre-crash peak of 2.237 million, meaning all the jobs lost during the crash have, statistically speaking, been recovered. At the same time, the State’s headline jobless rate was revised down to another post-crash low of 5.3 per cent, a level that’s almost consistent with full employment.

Because economic growth here is so heavily dependent on the actions of multinationals, employment and its mirror image unemployment have always been the best guide to economic performance.

Very few people felt the 26 per cent jump in gross domestic product (GDP) recorded in 2015, the one derided internationally as leprechaun economics, but thousands have felt the effects of the recovery in employment. Since the low point in employment – near the end of 2012 – the economy has created 350,000 jobs, or at least put 350,000 people previously declared unemployed back to work.

On Wednesday, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) was, however, forced into making one of the biggest revisions in headline unemployment on record, revising May’s 5.8 per cent figure down to 5.3 per cent. A 0.5 per cent shift is a big leap. Statistician Brian Ring explained that prior to Wednesday’s numbers, the unemployment rates for the first five months of 2018 were essentially forecasts based on a benchmark figure contained in the Labour Force Survey for the final quarter of 2017, with an input from the monthly Live Register totals.

This benchmark figure has now been revised up by the latest Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2018. Ring said there was a “larger-than-usual divergence” between the evolution of the Live Register series and the quarterly series.

This is not the first time we’ve had a big revision in headline unemployment. When the Labour Force Survey was first introduced at the end of last year, as a replacement for the Quarterly National Household Survey, the jobless rate was revised back up to 6.1 per cent.

This was because the new figures incorporated the latest census, which recorded an unexpected flow of inward migration.