The Biggest Symptom of a Problem

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The Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the UK have today released regional economic indicators. By bringing together data from a variety of sources, they provide a partial but very useful snapshot of where the economy under the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Assembly sits in relation to the British economy. The entire dataset is here and is very useful.

Below is the ONS chart on employment.

Oddly, repeated attempts to copy the full chart failed because the last item on the legend (directly below Scotland) kept dropping off. It’s Northern Ireland. In the chart, it is the orange line. Clearly, someone at ONS has a sense of humour.

NI has consistently the lowest level of employment of all the economic regions. Currently, the employment rate is 67%. This compares to an average in Britain of 71.6%. By international comparisons, the employment rate in Britain is not itself at all high.  But even that level would be a significant economic improvement. It would add 55,000 jobs to the 800,000 already in work. It would raise output, improve standards of living, reduce poverty and social ills and in passing would improve public finances.

But this is a long-term, structural problem and not simply a function of the current crisis. The chart below shows the employment rates compared, Britain and NI. The employment rate is consistently and invariably lower in NI.  It is also more volatile. This suggests that the relative levels of under-employment are a structural issue, to do with the anatomy of the NI economy and its relationship with the rest of the world.

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