Thursday 26 April 2018

'Lost decade' is over as number in work looks to hit new high

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Anne-Marie Walsh and Laura Lynott

The "lost decade" in jobs is over as new figures suggest the number of people at work has hit an all-time high.

Employment soared to just 12,000 short of its peak 10 years ago on the eve of the recession in the final months of last year, according to the latest official figures.

Economist Dan O'Brien predicted we are now likely to be living through a new peak for jobs if growth has continued at the same pace over the last three months.

But the dramatic growth figures were accompanied by warnings from the business community that the Government must take action to prevent the economy overheating again.

There were 2,231,000 people at work last December, 12,000 shy of the peak at the end of 2007.

"With strong growth continuing, it is very likely that the 2007 high has been surpassed in the first months of 2018," said Mr O'Brien.

"The lost decade in jobs is over."

He said the strong rate of employment growth, which most sectors are contributing to, could continue for at least another couple of years once we do not suffer a difficult Brexit or transatlantic trade war.

However, population growth of more than 400,000 between 2007 and 2017 means the employment rate, or share of the population at work, is still well below the 2007 peak.

He noted the figures also reveal that the number of women employed in Ireland has passed the one million mark for the first time.

Reflecting the big hit the male-dominated construction industry took, there are almost 70,000 fewer men employed compared to 2007.

However, there were an additional 12,000 jobs created in the sector, which was one of the key industries driving the employment growth.

Austin Hughes, chief economist at KBC Bank, warned there is a possibility of the economy overheating and going from boom to bust in light of recent history. However, with "appropriate policy settings", Mr Hughes said that there remains scope for robust increases in jobs for some time "without triggering a significant risk of overheating".

Employment grew by 3pc or 66,800 people last year to 2.23 million people, while unemployment fell 14pc or 23,400 to 144,100.

The 3pc increase of 66,800 in employment since 2016 was made up of 35,100 men and 31,800 women.

Employment rose in 12 of the 14 economic sectors. The biggest hikes were in administrative and support services, which saw a rise of over 11pc and 9,800 extra jobs.

In construction, there was a rise of almost 10pc in employment. An extra 12,000 people got jobs.

The biggest fall in employment was in professional, scientific and technical activities.

The long-term unemployed accounted for 40pc of the unemployed and there was a 2.5pc increase in the number of self-employed to 331,700.

Brian Ring of the Central Statistics Office said since the low point in employment, there are 350,000 more people at work.

"There's an increasing population and there will be a lot of words written if and when we go above the peak employment figure," he said.

"As the population gets bigger, you expect to see more people participating.

"For 22 quarters in a row there has been growth, a continued evolution.

"There are ups and downs and varied levels of unemployment, but today's figures are relatively strong.

"There's a trend evolving still and it's positive around employment."

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the figures are evidence the economy is performing well and generating "jobs-rich" growth.

"The Government is committed to ensuring these positive trends continue, by safeguarding the gains in competitiveness made in recent years," he said.

"Recent policies such as progressive reductions in the labour tax burden are contributing to these positive trends."

Irish Independent

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