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Full employment to bust in four years

IT took just four years for the country to go from full employment to a situation where one-in-seven people is out of work.

As recently as 2007 unemployment stood at just 4.6pc -- less than one in 20 of the workforce. That has trebled to 14.6pc today.

It may come as a shock to Celtic Tiger cubs, but you only have to go back to 1994 to find a similar proportion of people out of work.

Back then, the unemployment rate had been bobbing around 14pc for over a decade -- down only slightly from its peak of 17pc in the mid-1980s.

The difference between then and now is that a staggering 440,000 people are signing on for the dole today. Even at its worst in 1993 there were fewer than 300,000 people on the Live Register.

Then came the boom and for over a decade Ireland became a Mecca for jobseekers, both international workers and its own returning emigrants who pushed the workforce to a once unthinkable 2.1 million people.

Dole queues fell to around 150,000 during the first half of the noughties -- just one-third of today's figures -- and most of the people signing on were simply between jobs.

But it's not just the length of the dole queues that makes today's unemployment crisis so profound, it's the financial burden so many are carrying.


Increased expectations, high living costs and huge personal debt mean those on the dole today are far more likely to be crippled by mortgages and loan repayments.

The numbers signing on would also be even higher except that many women -- and an ever increasing number of men -- find themselves cut off from social welfare payments because their spouse is working, even if their lives and mortgages were built around the assumption that they would continue to earn two incomes.

The figures have been flat-lining at their current crisis level for seven months now and the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) foresees a bleak future.

In the 1990s, the state was a major source of new employment, but now it is actually shedding jobs, INOU spokesperson Brid O'Brien pointed out. And there is absolutely no chance of a construction boom.

Over half of those out of work are long-term unemployed.

Irish Independent