Dole queue shortens, but not if you're under 35
THERE were 20,000 more people at work at the end of March than in the same period last year. And 2012 saw the first increase in employment since the crash began in 2008.
These figures from the Central Statistics Office make encouraging reading. But behind them is more a picture of deep changes in the world of work, than any general improvement in the labour market.
Beneath the headline is the somewhat uncomfortable fact that the number of full-time jobs fell by 3,700 over the preceding 12 months, but this was more than offset by a rise of 24,200 people in part-time employment.
The statistics count people, not hours worked, so it is reasonable to assume that the actual amount of work being done in the economy increased by very little – if at all.
This is borne out in the survey of some 20,000 households by the numbers saying they would work more hours if they could. They account for a third of all part-time workers.
It is still a great improvement from the dark days at the end of the last decade. Unemployment fell below 300,000 for the first time since 2010, when the numbers in full-time work fell by 200,000 over the course of a year.
That was mainly the collapse of the building industry, which still exerts its baleful influence on employment. One might think there was little left of the construction industry to shrink, but the 7,000 jobs lost in that sector was still the single biggest drop, bringing the total below 100,000 for the first time.
At some point, construction will turn. One can see why the Government is tempted to earmark some extra money for building projects. It is the quickest way to produce a jump in employment figures, even though it does not deal with the underlying weakness.
There was some good news on the underlying picture, with an increase of more than 2,000 in the numbers employed in industry. This continues the trend seen at the end of 2012.
There may not be anything too fundamental in the big rise in employment in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Agriculture is the main element in this sector but the numbers have been volatile and it is not clear to the statisticians what exactly is going on.
The question asked in the survey does not help. It is whether the person surveyed had paid work of more than one hour in the previous week. It is easy to see how bits of farm work in particular could jump up and down in these surveys.
Perhaps more intriguing is the other question asked of respondents: how would you describe your situation? In the first three months of the year there was a sharp, unprecedented increase of 14pc in those saying they were at work compared with the same period of 2012. That does suggest progress.
The feeling grows that we are seeing a shift in the pattern of work. That would be no great surprise.
One fairly reliable figure is the 22,700 drop in public sector employment over the past three years. At 5.6pc, it is perhaps not as big as all the fuss would lead one to expect, but it is highly unlikely that all those people are no longer working at all.
Many will have turned up among the part-time workers, and the 4pc rise in self-employed seen in the last year alone.
This is supported by the finding that the increases in employment are confined to the 35-55 age group, and the biggest rise is in the 45-55 group. Indeed, jobs among this group are back to pre-crash levels, even if more of them are part-time.
In contrast, there were fewer jobs for younger people and a fairly shocking 2.3pc fall in the key 25-35 group. It is a troubling thought that older workers may be leaving their jobs, often with generous severance terms, only to find new work in the same sector; while younger people cannot get a start at all and thousands of jobs go unfilled for lack of suitable skills.
The troika has pressed the Government to put more resources into training and job placement, with an emphasis on the young and long-term jobless. If it does have a billion to spare, as some ministers seem to think, perhaps it could do worse than spend the money there.