The number of people at work has been predicted to rise by 60,000 over the course of 2017 while the average unemployment rate could fall to as low as 6%.
Economist Alan McQuaid of Merrion made the prediction after the CSO released its Quarterly National Household Survey for the first quarter of this year.
That showed total employment as of the end of March was 2,045,000, 68,600 more than at the corresponding point in 2016.
Furthermore, the increase was as a result of people finding work in full-time employment. The CSO figures revealed that the number of people with full-time jobs increased by 84,200, or 5.5%, while the numbers in part-time roles decreased by 3.4% or 15,600.
The biggest increases in employment were in the information and communication sector (+ 8.8% or 7,500) and construction (+8.5% or 11,100).
The CSO figures show that unemployment fell by 18.5% or 33,200 in the year to the first quarter of 2017, meaning the unemployment rate fell to 6.8%.
That was accompanied by a corresponding fall in the numbers out of work for more than a year. The long-term unemployment rate fell from 4.7% to 3.6% over the 12 months while the youth unemployment rate — those aged 15-24 years — fell from 16.9% to 13.2%.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the labour market began the year in a “very positive manner” and he welcomed the very strong employment growth recorded in the first quarter.
“Employment gains of 68,600 (3.5%) clearly demonstrate that economic growth is generating significant dividends in the labour market,” he said.
“Indeed, it is noteworthy that full-time employment increased by over 84,000 in the first quarter and I particularly welcome this development. In parallel, unemployment continues to fall with the unemployment rate reaching 6.4% in April.”
Mr McQuaid said that, although emigration has been a factor to some degree in keeping unemployment down since the financial crisis, the labour market had improved dramatically over the few years, reflecting the strengthening of the economic recovery.
“Indeed, the most recent migration estimates showed net inward migration of 3,100 in the year to April 2016 as against net outward migration of 11,600 in 2015, and the first positive figure since 2009,” he said.
“After the very positive start to 2017, we are now looking for a net jobs rise of around 60,000 this year. As regards unemployment, we are forecasting an average jobless rate in 2017 of 6.0% as against 7.9% in 2016 and 9.4% in 2015.”
Employers’ body, Ibec, said the growth in employment is the largest the economy had experienced since 2007 and it said all signals point to quality jobs being created given the increase in full-time employment and significant jobs growth in high-skill sectors such as ICT and in construction.
“The labour market is now moving toward full employment at a rapid pace,” said Ibec senior economist, Gerard Brady. “We must not lose focus. Ireland’s labour force participation and total employment levels still remain low compared to European peers. We must have increased focus on labour market activation and removing barriers to work in areas such as childcare. Additionally, we must stand ready to address the skills gaps, emerging in key sectors.”
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