290,000 jobseekers now on Live Register Unemployment rate 8.3 per cent, says CSO


UNEMPLOYMENT hit a 10-year high in December, with the number of people claiming jobseekers' payments jumping by a record 70 per cent in 2008.

There are now more than 290,000 unemployment claimants on the Live Register. A total of 22,777 people signed on for the first time last month, as companies shed staff before Christmas.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said that the estimated unemployment rate has now reached 8.3 per cent, up from the November estimate of 7.8 per cent, after an increasingly grim year for the jobs market in which 121,000 people joined the dole queue.

It is now feared that the rate of job losses will accelerate further, with a massive redundancy announcement at computer manufacturer Dell and hundreds of jobs in the balance at Waterford Crystal and Tara Mines.

The number of people on the Live Register is expected to surpass the 300,000 mark for the first time as early as next month and economists expect the unemployment rate to reach 10 per cent by the middle of the year.

Workers who lose their jobs will find it increasingly difficult to find replacement employment as the recession cranks up a gear.

Figures from Fás show that the number of vacancies notified to the State training agency fell 32 per cent last year, with the decline accelerating as the year progressed. Annual falls in vacancies were recorded across all occupations.

Fás economist Brian McCormick said that, if the current rate of acceleration persisted, the unemployment rate would hit at least 12 per cent over the course of 2009. But he said the immediate future for the jobs market depended on the impact of a weak sterling and the credit crunch on the retail sector, as well as the way in which migration trends respond to the changes in the economic environment.

National Irish Bank economist Ronnie O'Toole said the 25-44 age group was being hit the hardest by redundancies and that this was the same group with the largest level of household debts to pay off.

Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton said the last three months had seen dole queues lengthen by an average of more than 500 people every day: "This means that 2009 won't just see a winter of discontent - the whole year will be bleak as the spectre of widespread unemployment returns to haunt Ireland," he said, adding that the Government's "head-in-the-sand" reaction to the 1,900 job losses at Dell "does not offer much hope".

Labour Party employment spokesman Willie Penrose said the "truly shocking" figures capped what had been "one of the most dismal weeks in our economic history".

Employers body Ibec called on the Government to introduce a business viability fund to help exporting companies suffering from the currency crisis.

Small business group Isme described the surge in unemployment claimants as "catastrophic". Chief executive Mark Fielding said the Government had "utterly failed to even indicate how it is going to address the problems" faced by small companies, who were being asked to stomach higher pay rates and local charges.

The 70 per cent spike in unemployment benefit claimants is by the worst on record, far exceeding the 39 per cent rise in claimants in 1980. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Live Register rose by 16,300 people last month.