Unemployment at ‘crisis’ point across South-East

Unemployment in the South-East of the country is at crisis point after almost a decade and a half of stagnation in the regional economy, a wide-ranging new report has found.

The South-East Economic Monitor, published by researchers at Waterford Institute of Technology, finds that the region continues to be characterised by “persistently high levels of unemployment, deprivation and significantly lower job quality” in comparison with other regions.

The problematic regional economic performance is exacerbated by a lack of investment in third-level education and decades of “under-representation” on the part of the IDA whose remit is to attract foreign direct investment into the country, despite greater focus from the state agency recently.

“We talk [in the report] about the comparison of the job quality in the region to the state average and investment in education seems to be a crucial link to that. The number of missing education places — based on a proportional rate anyway — we estimate the region is missing over 7,000 [higher] education places. We think this contributes to job quality in the region.

“The other thing is the IDA visits and the IDA activity in the region. We have found it has increased quite considerably over the last year or two since a regional manager has been reappointed but there’s a cumulative effect over a long period of time where the region has been underrepresented. Between direct and indirect jobs we estimate about 10,000 jobs, on a proportional basis, again that are missing from the region,” said report co-author and Waterford Institute of Technology business lecturer, Cormac O’Keefe said.

The report finds unemployment remains stubbornly above the national average with the recession hitting the South-East earlier than anywhere else in the country and lasting longer than elsewhere.

Consequently, the regional economy has endured 14 years of stagnation. Unemployment has fallen across the region from 15.7% in the first quarter 2014 to 12.5% in the first quarter 2016 but rose on a quarterly basis from 11.9% at the end of 2015.

The national average currently stands at 8.4% with the South-East’s unemployment rate the highest in the country, with the Midlands second worse off at 11.6%.

Dr O’Keefe and his colleagues said it’s clear there “is no plan to turn the South-East economy around” and criticised the Government’s much- vaunted Action Plan for Jobs which the report finds is inadequate and does nothing to address the root cause of the region’s stagnation.

Specifically, the action plan doesn’t propose any policies designed to expand educational capacity across Waterford, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary.

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation wasn’t immediately available for comment.

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