Jobless figures below 400,000 as economy picks up pace
ENTERPRISE Minister Richard Bruton has said Ireland will see an accelerating rate of job creation this year after the number of people signing on to the Live Register dipped to below 400,000.
The unemployment rate is now at its lowest in almost five years and it is the first time in seven years that Irish unemployment has fallen below the eurozone average.
The jobless rate has fallen 11.9pc from a peak of 15.1pc two years ago and is now the lowest it has been since April 2009, new CSO figures show.
The numbers signing on fell by 2,500 in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, and there are nearly 31,000 fewer people on the Live Register than there were a year ago.
As he announced 150 new jobs at software firm VCE in Cork, Mr Bruton said that it was vital that employment costs were reduced for firms as he signalled likely changes on tax bands.
Mr Bruton said the low rate of qualifying for Ireland's highest tax rate has for years been a barrier to job creation.
There are 61,000 more people in work than 12 months ago and Ireland is surging close to the pre-economic crash employment rate of 2007/2008.
"As you know in January (the Live Register) was down by nearly 30,000 and that will be improved upon. In 12 months there are now more than 30,000 fewer on the Live Register. Clearly, it is still too high and we have a long way to go," he said.
"The truth is that we have had six (job) announcements in Cork alone since Christmas. If you top them up they come to over 1,000 jobs. The truth is that we are rebuilding an economy – it is not a question of finding a silver bullet that solves everything.
"We need to see entrepreneurs grow with new start-ups, we need to see existing companies grow and we need to see international firms invest here. That is how you get a strong and balanced economy."
Mr Bruton said that, for the first time since 2008, all Irish sectors and regions are showing signs of a strong recovery.
"What is really encouraging about the job numbers is that every region in the country saw job growth," he said.
"For instance, the south east – which has been an area of particular focus – it saw 15,000 extra people at work and a reduction in the Live Register of three points... I think we are seeing a broad-based recovery.
"We are seeing tourism recovering, we are seeing food recovering... it is not just about high-tech recovering. When adjusted for seasonal factors, there are now 398,300 people on the Live Register – which is about 50,000 fewer than at its peak in September 2010.
Far more men than women have come off the Live Register in the last year, with 25,574 fewer male applicants compared to 5,333 fewer females.
But short-term unemployment is falling faster than long-term joblessness, with the share of those out of work for a year or more rising to 45.3pc of the total.
The new figures represent further positive news for the Irish economy, with the 20th monthly decrease in a row in the numbers signing on, said Alan McQuaid of Merrion Stockbrokers.
While emigration was one factor, there was clear evidence that employment conditions were improving in most sectors over the past few months.
"If things continue to improve at the same speed the unemployment rate could be below 11pc come year-end," he said.
The Irish unemployment rate has fallen below the eurozone average of 12pc, the first time this has happened since 2006, said Davy analyst Conall Mac Coille.
Surveys of Irish companies' employment intentions indicated companies were adding jobs at their fastest rates in years and there was a surge in business confidence.
However, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association (ISME) warned that while jobs growth was happening, it was happening at too slow a pace.
The Government must work to reduce costs, and remove social welfare traps that make it too expensive for many small firms to fill entry-level jobs, it said.