Unemployment rate slips below 10% for the first time in 20 years


Unemployment has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time in more than 20 years. It now stands at 9.9 per cent. In November, the numbers signing on the Live Register fell by 4,001, bringing the Live Register down to 239,960. This is the lowest figure since January 1991. The unemployment rate then was 14.7 per cent because the Irish workforce was much smaller.

Seasonally adjusted, the fall in unemployment last month was 3,900. In October, the seasonally adjusted drop was 1,200; it is the eighth consecutive month that the figure has fallen.

While there has been a broad welcome for the latest figures, they will make it much harder for Ireland to secure further EU Structural Funds.

Our unemployment rate is now well below the EU average of 11.5 per cent and unemployment rates are one of the main criteria used to assess eligibility for EU funding.

Since 1993, Irish unemployment rates have fallen by over a third. At that time, it was 15.5 per cent. It fell to 14.1 per cent in 1994, 12.2 per cent in 1995, 11.5 per cent in 1996 and, in October 1997, stood at 10.1 per cent.

Another striking feature of the trend is that women are signing off the dole at almost twice the rate of men. Since last August the number of people signing on has fallen by 18,000. Women accounted for 10,000 of the reduction, although they account for less than 40 per cent of those on the Live Register.

This trend continued in November, when the number of women signing on fell by 2,615. This compared with a drop of 1,386 for men. There are now 93,063 women on the Live Register and 146,897 men.

The figures suggest that women are proving more flexible in filling gaps in the labour market.

They also reflect the fact that services - and atypical employments generally - are now the areas of greatest jobs growth. Another significant trend is that the numbers on Unemployment Assistance (people signing on for more than a year) are shrinking fastest. People signing on for Unemployment Benefit, the short-term unemployed, are rising. This is true of men and women.

This may be because people are switching jobs to take advantage of increasing demand for their skills. But it might also be that new initiatives, like the £80 a week Jobstart subsidy to employers recruiting the long-term unemployed, is having a displacement effect in the labour market. The Government Chief Whip, Mr Seamus Brennan, said the Live Register returns showed the continuing strength of the economy. But the number out of work remained unacceptably high.

He also defended job creation measures in the Budget, like the increase of 5,000 places in the Back to Work Allowance scheme and extra tax reliefs for employers recruiting long-term unemployed.

Senator Sean Ryan (Labour) also welcomed the drop but said: "It should be remembered a significant number of those who are taking up work are moving into low-paid jobs."

Democratic Left TD, Mr Pat Rabbitte, said that the Government must beware of relying on the old "rising tide lifting all boats" philosophy to solve the unemployment problem.