The NI labour market has improved considerably over the past few years: employment is up; unemployment is down; and wealth (as measured by GVA per head) has risen by more than in any other region of theUK. On the other hand, levels of economic inactivity have remained stubbornly high and NI has a weak private sector with a concomitant over-reliance on the public sector: and skills levels in the working age population are somewhat lower than in theUKas a whole. The latest figures show that annual economic growth is above theUKaverage, with wage levels also rising. At the same time,Northern Irelandis experiencing record levels of in-migration.
According to the Labour Market Bulletin,Northern Irelandhas made many progressions in recent years such as:
- The labour market inNorthern Irelandhas performed well in recent years with strong growth in employment and commensurate falls in unemployment. In mid 2006 there were more than three-quarters of a million people in work inNorthern Ireland, with 70% of working age people in a job.
- The NI unemployment rate has been below 5% for the past two years despite rises elsewhere in theUK. The current rate of around 4.5% is lower than both theUKand EU averages.
- In 2004, the most recent year for which whole economy figures are available, real growth in the NI economy as measured by Gross Value Added was 2.1%, above theUKrate of 1.7%.
- Median private sector earnings rose more strongly inNorthern Irelandin 2005/2006 than in theUKas a whole.
- Migration intoNorthern Irelandincreased sharply in 2004/2005 – up from just over 18,000 in 2002/2003 toIrelandnearly 27,000 in 2004/2005. In this latter year some 6,700 more people came intoNorthern Irelandthan left it: this represents the biggest annual net in-migration intoNorthern Irelandon record.
Northern Irelandfaces some challenges. These include:
- Although more people are in work and fewer people are unemployed, economic inactivity (those out of the labour force altogether) remains high inNorthern Irelandwith inactivity rates of around 27%. This is some 6% higher than theUKrate.
- Private sector wages, though increasing, remain depressed compared toUKlevels. Median private sector wages are some 16% lower than in theUKas a whole and this is indicative of a still relatively weak private sector here.
In conclusion, over the past decadeNorthern Irelandhas achieved unprecedented rates of employment growth with more than an additional 100,000 jobs in the economy than 10 years ago. At the same time, they have record low unemployment. Now in 2011,Northern Irelandremains with a low unemployment economy.