ITS title is Measuring Ireland’s Progress 2009 but the new report by the Central Statistics Office chronicles how the country suffered deep regression across most aspects of the economy and society last year.
The dramatic turnaround in Ireland’s fortunes from the Celtic Tiger boom period are highlighted in 109 “progress” indicators contained in the report about the state of the nation.
The most stark reminder of the changing economy is the confirmation that Ireland was in recession during 2009 as Gross Domestic Product – a measure of the country’s overall economic output – fell sharply for the second year in a row and Ireland had the highest public deficit of any EU member state.
The balance in the national accounts fell to a loss representing over 14% of GDP – far below the official 3% deficit limit allowed under the EU’s stability and growth pact. In addition, Government debt soared to 64% of GDP from just 25% in 2007.
Ireland’s employment rate fell below the EU average last year and the unemployment rate in December 2009, at 12%, was the joint fifth highest in the EU.
Although inflation fell in 2009, Irish prices remain high in comparison to most of our European neighbours.
On a positive note, productivity of the Irish workforce remained at above the EU average.
Outside the economic sphere, Ireland has the lowest divorce rate and the highest fertility rate in the EU.
Our population is growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in Europe with the highest percentage of young people and the lowest proportion of old people of any EU country.
Ireland performs relatively well in international comparisons on education, with the second-highest proportion of young population in the EU to have completed third-level education, although we have a high pupil-teacher ratio by EU standards at primary level.
Back to the economic sphere, and despite an 11.3% decline in GDP last year, Ireland still has the second-highest GDP per capita within the EU in terms of purchasing power.
However, this slips to 10th position when based on Gross National Income – a measure similar to GDP but excluding profits repatriated by foreign-owned companies and individuals based in Ireland.
The Government’s investment in capital projects remained well above the EU average for most of the past decade but declined sharply since 2008 and fell below the EU average for the first time in many years in 2009 largely as a result of the dramatic decline in the construction sector.
While productivity of the Irish workforce is about a third higher than the EU average, it is explained to a large degree by longer working hours.
Although inflation fell here last year, Ireland has still become less competitive over the past decade with prices still about 25% above the EU average – a situation not helped by the appreciation of the euro against some of our main trading partners who are not in the eurozone.
Ireland’s employment rate fell from a recent high of over 69% in 2007 to 62.5% last year which is almost 2% below the EU average.
The unemployment rate of 12% at the end of last year was the joint fifth highest in the EU. Almost one in 10 households here has at least one member who is out of work.
The average retirement age for Irish workers is 64.1 years, joint second highest in the EU and almost three years above the average retirement age from the EU labour force.
The report reveals that 42% of the population would be at risk of poverty without pensions and other social welfare payments – the same level as the EU average.
The figure drops to 16% when such transfers are included.
In 2008, just over 4% of the population were living in consistent poverty ranging from 13% of ill or disabled people and 10% of the unemployed to 1% of those at work and pensioners.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved