Unemployment hits 14.6pc -- its highest level for 17 years
UNEMPLOYMENT has jumped to the highest levels since 1994 as young and middle-aged men continue to lose jobs at record rates and long-term unemployment becomes the norm for those without work.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said yesterday that it now believed that 14.6pc of the population was unemployed, after revising the February figure of 13.5pc published last week.
The revision follows the publication of the latest survey of households which shows that less than 60pc of the potential workforce now holds a job -- a statistic last seen in the 1990s.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the last quarter of 2010 was 14.7pc, the CSO added.
The higher-than-expected figures show that young men and foreigners are bearing the brunt of the economy's collapse as jobs in the construction sector, property-related financial services companies and the hospitality sector disappear.
Elderly women are almost immune to the recession, according to the figures.
The latest numbers were far worse than most economists expected and pushed unemployment far beyond forecasts in most government reports.
"The jobless rate is worse than previously thought," said Alan McQuaid, an economist with Bloxham Stockbrokers.
"It is likely to be late 2011 at the earliest before there is an underlying improvement in employment conditions.
"Indeed, more losses in the construction, financial services and retail sectors look inevitable over the next few months, with emigration the key factor in preventing the jobless rate rising above 15pc."
Lynsey Clemenger of Ulster Bank described it as "a somewhat surprising development" but added that she did not "anticipate any major recovery in employment growth in coming quarters".
Just over half of the country's 300,000 unemployed were without a job for more than a year in the last quarter of 2010, the figures reveal.
Only a third of those without a job were classified as long-term unemployed a year earlier while two-thirds of those without work were men.
An extraordinary 85pc of those who lost their jobs in the last quarter of 2010 were aged between 20 and 34. Foreigners living here were also badly hit, with tentative figures showing that the unemployment rate among what the CSO calls "non-Irish nationals" was 18.4pc.
The greatest year-on-year fall in employment in the fourth quarter continued to be seen in the construction sector which shed 26,800 workers and now employs just 109,900 people, or 60pc less than at the peak.
Other notable declines in employment were recorded in the financial, insurance and property sectors.
The grim news for Ireland came as things continued to pick up in the rest of Europe. Separate figures published yesterday by Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, showed that eurozone employment grew year-on-year for the first time since the financial crisis began.
Employment in the fourth quarter rose 0.1pc from the third quarter and 0.3pc year-on-year within the 27-nation eurozone, offering signs of a strengthening labour market that one analyst said should boost growth in consumer spending in Germany, the region's dominant economy.
It was the first annual increase since the third quarter of 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Eurozone unemployment fell below 10pc in January for the first time since December 2009.
Employment increased in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Slovakia, but declined in debt-laden southern European countries Portugal and Spain, as well as in Finland and Slovenia.