State’s unemployment rate stays high at 21.9% in May

Youth unemployment rate of 58.8% is one of highest on record

The State’s Covid-adjusted unemployment rate fell marginally to 21.9 percent last month amid the partial lifting of public health restrictions.

The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) suggest that up to 487,122 people in the Irish economy were either out of work permanently or in receipt of the Government's pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) in May. The youth unemployment rate was put at 58.8 per cent, one of the highest rates on record.

The figures do not include the near 300,000 people benefiting from the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), which are classified as employed.

The headline unemployment numbers were published alongside the CSO's latest Labour Force Survey, which showed employment in the Irish economy fell by 5 per cent – on an annual basis – to 2.23 million in the first quarter of 2021.


This corresponded to an employment rate of almost 65.6 per cent for people aged between 15 and 64 years.

The biggest annual decline in employment was in the “accommodation and food services” sector where employment fell by 43.6 per cent or 73,900.

There were also big declines for “other services activities” which includes arts, sports, entertainment and cultural activities, where employment fall by almost 30 per cent to 34,700 and for “administration and support services” (-29.8 per cent or -33,300).

The number of hours worked per week in the Irish economy fell by 7.6 million or 9.9 per cent in the first quarter reflecting the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on the labour market.

The decline was due to the absences from work, which can be driven by temporary layoffs from work, family leave and holidays.

Away from work

The CSO said 309,500 workers (13.9 per cent ) were “Away from work” in the reference week assessed by the agency compared to 8.9 per cent a year earlier.

"The Covid-19 crisis has continued to have a significant impact on the labour market in Ireland in May 2021," CSO statistician Edel Flannery said.

“ While the standard measure of monthly unemployment was 7.8 per cent in May 2021, the Covid-19 adjusted measure of unemployment indicates a rate as high as 21.9 per cent if all claimants of the PUP were classified as unemployed,” she said, noting this was down from a revised rate of 24.8 per cent in April and from 29.8 per cent in May 2020.

Chief economist at Grant Thornton Ireland, Andrew Webb, said: ‘The latest unemployment figures continue to tell the story of the deep impact of the pandemic on the labour market.”

“While the statistics make for stark reading, there is a growing sense that a labour market bounce back is possible. Reports of increasing vacancy levels and job listings approaching pre-pandemic levels raise the expectation that the economy will record a strong second half to the year,” he said.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times