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Emigration spectre back to haunt after 20 years

THE first significant emigration from Ireland in 20 years is forecast for next year, as the employment "miracle" comes to an end, the new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) says.

After five years in which the number of people in work has risen by up to 70,000 a year, the ESRI thinks employment is already falling.

Although levels may pick up in the second half of next year, the average number of people in work will be 15,000 less than in 2007, the forecast says.

With the potential labour force having grown by almost 50,000 over the same period, the result will be a rapid rise in unemployment from 4.5pc to more than 7pc -- and an outflow of 20,000 workers from the country.

Without this level of emigration, unemployment would top 8pc, the ESRI says. "It seems implausible to us that migration flows would not react to [the employment] situation," the report says.

But the researchers admit that forecasts for migration are full of uncertainty, and it is impossible to know how many of the emigrants will be foreign and how many Irish.

Estimate

The report sees a total of 60,000 people leaving in 2009. But there will still be inward migration of 40,000, it believes -- again comprising unknown numbers of foreign and Irish workers.

"It may help, for instance, that the Polish economy is doing better," senior researcher Alan Barrett said. "The number of PPS numbers being issued to foreign EU workers has fallen by half, but they are only a rough guide to the numbers actually coming here. Our estimate is that the number of immigrants will slow to 76,000 this year, from 109,500 last year. That has to be balanced against numbers leaving, which have been about 45,000 a year."

The numbers signing on the Live Register, which records the number of people claiming benefits or tax credits, have already gone above 200,000. Although the Register does not directly measure unemployment, the ESRI notes a widening gap between this and other data, and the results of the large Central Statistics Office (CSO) survey carried out every three months.

Growth

The survey showed continued growth in employment in the first three months of the year. Only 3.5pc more construction workers said they had lost their jobs, while the building industry's data showed an 11pc drop.

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Fewer than 9,000 people said they had become unemployed in the previous twelve months, while 30,000 more signed on the Live Register. The ESRI says it appears that many building workers who lost their jobs are now self-employed.

"It should be recalled that, in order to be classified as 'employed' in the survey, only one hour has to be worked in the survey week. The trend towards self-employment could be capturing a fall in the true rate of labour usage if these people are working fewer hours as self-employed," the report says.

There has also been an increase in the number of part-time workers. The percentage of full-time employees fell from a peak of 83.3pc of the workforce in late 2006 to 81.7pc in the early part of this year.

The Government faces a challenge of re-training, or even re-locating, those who lose their jobs or cannot find work.


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