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15th Jun 2017

Whoop! High fives all round! Take the afternoon off, you guys!

David Elliott

Yes it’s time to celebrate because the Northern Ireland job market hasn’t been in as a good shape for ages, according to the most recent set of stats from those clever bods at NISRA (Northern Ireland Stats are Really Awesome).

At least, that’s what the headline numbers want you to believe.

The number of people on the dole queue has fallen for the 14th consecutive month and the unemployment rate – albeit derived from a survey and therefore accompanied by a little room for error – has fallen by 0.3% to 5.4%.

So let’s kick back and catch some rays, safe in the knowledge we’re sitting pretty when it comes to the amount of people in work while remarking that we don’t really need an Executive in Stormont to keep in good shape.

Before you do, it might be worth having a bit of a deeper look into the detail and the surrounding economic environment.

Firstly – and apologies for droning on about this but too many government releases try to bury this ongoing nugget – economic inactivity has climbed to the highest level in eight years and remains the highest level of all UK regions.

It refers to the number of people not actively looking for work, such as students, carers, long-term sick and those who retire early and Northern Ireland’s economy, still struggling to get out of first gear, isn’t going to be hitting the high notes until that issue is sorted out.

Countless government initiatives to sort it out did seem to be working with the rate falling over the last few months but that seems to have lessened in the recent days.

Then there’s inflation.

Economists up and down the land were rubbing their hands together this week as a widely-held prediction of theirs came true (a rare occurrence) with inflation climbing to a four-year high of 2.9% in May.

That might not be a very interesting number to you but when you couple it with the fact wages aren’t rising anywhere near as fast (at just 1,7%) then we are, in effect, taking a pay cut each year.

In essence, prices are rising faster than our wages, a phenomenon which has a big impact on how much money we have to spend on so-called discretionary goods and services at the end of the pay month.

That in turn dents the prospects for companies which supply those goods and services and can lead to them cutting jobs if the situation lasts for a long period of time.

And so the cycle goes on.

So, while the job market might just be looking rosey at first glance, there are a lot of obstacles which it needs to overcome if we’re to have truly strong economic growth.

Having a bit of political leadership might be a good start, but the prospect of getting that anytime soon appears small.

So for now, put the bunting away and don’t get carried away by the job headlines.

There’s still work to be done.

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