Numbers in employment at highest level since 2009
The numbers at work are now at the highest level since early 2009, new figures show, giving a boost to the outgoing Coalition as the election campaign enters its final days.
Although experts point out that employment growth was weaker than expected in the final months of last year, they argue the overall labour market trend shows the strength and breadth of the economic recovery. The unemployment rate stood at 8.9pc last month, slightly higher than first thought, but economists believe it will dip further - to below 8pc - by the end of the year. Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high at 18.9pc, although that's down over the year from 20.3pc.
Outgoing Finance Minister Michael Noonan said employment numbers have risen for 13 successive quarters, with the numbers now at work at 1.98 million - up 44,100 in the year to the end of December.
"Ongoing employment growth is a clear sign of economic recovery," Mr Noonan said, following the latest jobs data from the Central Statistics Office.
"More people are now at work than at any stage since 2009, with some 142,000 jobs created since the trough of the crisis."
On a seasonally adjusted basis, employment increased in the final three months of last year by 4,700, or 0.2pc, compared with the previous quarter.
This was weaker, however, than had been expected by economists.
Employment had risen on average by 0.7pc over the previous three quarters, Ulster Bank chief economist, Simon Barry, said.
But he said the evidence from other economic indicators points to further jobs growth, "arguing against a negative interpretation of the Q4 figures".
"Indeed, annual employment growth is still a very healthy 2.3pc, consistent with ongoing very solid underlying improvement, albeit not quite as exceptionally strong as the 2.9pc recorded in Q3," he said.
"It's not just Dublin or the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) which is experiencing a jobs recovery: while the GDA did outperform slightly in the year to Q4, the rest of the country is continuing to experience solid jobs growth. Over half of the new jobs created in the economy in the year to Q4, and indeed over the past three years of recovery, were filled by workers outside the GDA," he said.
The jobless rate is falling in every region bar the West, where it rose from 10.3pc in the final three months of 2014 to 10.6pc in the same period last year. The highest regional unemployment rate is in the South East, at 11.9pc, while the lowest is in Dublin at 7.6pc.
Employment increased in 12 of the 14 economic sectors over the last year, with the largest increases in construction, which rose by 8.5pc, or by 9,900 people. The financial and insurance sectors saw the greatest rate of decline, dropping 3.9pc, or by 4,000.
"Overall, the solid trends in the labour market reflect the strength and breadth of growth in the economy more generally. We expect strong, if less exceptional, GDP growth to be maintained through 2016 - an outlook which underpins our expectation for the labour market to also continue to show further, solid improvement through this year," Mr Barry said.
KBC Bank said that while the softer tone of the jobs figures in the final quarter of last year "injects some note of caution", the recovery in employment remains "robust".
"The data for 2015 as a whole are very impressive," the bank said. "The recovery also moved onto a broader geographic footing in 2015."