David Chance: 'How record job figures hide the worrying deep rifts in economy'
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe hailed yesterday's employment report as evidence the economy was performing well and that Government policy was working.
The headline numbers backed him up, showing that unemployment fell for the 25th consecutive quarter and the number of people with a job stood at 2,273,200, the highest level on record at the end of October, according to Central Statistics Office data.
Ireland's red-hot economic growth of 7.2pc in 2017, or three times the eurozone average, attracted workers from overseas and 26,200 entered the labour force here in the 12 months to the end of October, alongside 40,500 locals.
The headline numbers disguise some worrying trends in the State's two-speed economy.
Foreign multinationals are increasingly leaving Irish-owned small and medium-sized companies behind; there is a growing divergence between Dublin and the rest of the country; and high childcare costs are keeping women out of the workforce.
Dublin alone accounts for a whopping 696,000 jobs, 30pc of the total, and the percentage of people in the labour force in the capital stands at 66.1pc, well above the national rate of 62.6pc. Turn to the midlands - Longford, Laois, West Meath and Offaly - and the participation rate is just 58.8pc.
"If you look at the participation rates in some regions, the rate is actually down a little bit," Tom Healy, director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, told the Irish Independent. "Male participation rates are actually stagnating."
Some industries that traditionally employed a lot of men have not seen their workforce return to pre-crisis levels. Construction, for example, now employs 146,000 people, well off its peak of 240,000 in the second quarter of 2007.
Foreign interest in civil engineering accounted for 32pc of clicks on jobs website Indeed in the third quarter, according to the company's economist Pawel Adrjan.
Those people will have to keep on coming here to keep up the pace of economic growth as the slowdown in the birthrate means there will be fewer workers.
According to research from the Central Bank, the participation rate will dip to 52.1pc for women and 61.7pc for men by 2025.
Demographic trends will worsen a situation where the percentage of the labour force that is actually working is well below levels in Europe, especially for women, in large part due to childcare costs that are the second most expensive for couples earning more than one-and-a-half times the average OECD wage and come in at €155.60 a week.
There are also growing gaps between the best performing parts of the country and the rest.
A National Competitiveness Council report said productivity in the foreign sectors grew 6.5pc annually between 2000 and 2014, while the remainder grew at just or 2.4pc. That matters because 70pc of the people working today are employed in the domestic sector.