Unemployment figure may have hit 25% months earlier than predicted

Unemployment, which had been forecast to peak at 25% this summer due to the Covid-19 crisis, may have already exceeded that level — two months earlier than forecast.
Unemployment figure may have hit 25% months earlier than predicted

Additional reporting: Cianan Brennan, and Noel Baker

Unemployment, which had been forecast to peak at 25% this summer due to the Covid-19 crisis, may have already exceeded that level — two months earlier than forecast.

Issued by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the figures have stunned economists.

They show that a total of 714,000 now claim income supports, with the number of people on the new €350-a-week unemployment scheme surging by 224,000 in just seven days to 507,000.

Based on the total claimant count, the figures suggest that the effective unemployment rate has already surged to well above the 25% rate, which the Central Bank predicted last Thursday in its latest quarterly bulletin.

UCC economist Seamus Coffey, the former chair of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, said the rise in the jobless numbers had been swift, and that official forecasts have been surpassed.

The new figures point to unemployment staying at an elevated level for longer, if the period of the lockdown were to be extended, said Mr Coffey.

The leap in the figures came as building sites were ordered to close just over a week ago, and appear to suggest that all of those employed in the industry and in many other parts of the economy lost their jobs last week.

However, Conall Mac Coille, chief economist at Davy Research, said the numbers were “extraordinary, and will need more scrutiny”.

There has been a rise of 224,000 people on the Covid-19 payment in one week, and the numbers suggest that workers from other sectors as well as construction had joined the payment count.

Mr Mac Coille said the figures also suggest that a “remarkable” one third of all people in private sector employment in the State were now receiving payments under either the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment or the temporary wage subsidy scheme.

The emergency schemes have been costed by the Department of Finance at €3.7bn — but that estimate is based on a shutdown of only 12 weeks, and on a maximum of 800,000 people applying for either of the two schemes.

Paradoxically, the grim jobs news came on the day that Irish shares joined in a huge stock market rally, as investors worldwide were buoyed by hopes that the global Covid-19 death rates were slowing, leading to a surge in shares in Ryanair and Irish home builders Cairn Homes and Glenveagh Properties.

Meanwhile, the latest figures from the National Public Health Emergency Team show that men are dying at a significantly higher rate from Covid-19 than women.

Some 66% of the 174 deaths recorded to date have been male, with 60 female, said Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan.

A further 16 deaths were reported at last night’s Department of Health briefing on the virus, with an additional 370 new cases confirmed, bringing the overall total to 5,364. The median age of all deaths to date is 81.

The figures come as Interpol warned of changing criminal patterns, and increased threats in certain areas as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The international police co-operation organisation said there has been a marked increase in cyber threats — including malicious domains, malware, and ransomware — with health service providers and outlets supplying essential products being particular targets.

Interpol said there had also been a rise in domestic violence, and increased online activity by paedophiles seeking child sexual abuse material — a problem that is being exacerbated by a shortage of moderators who identify and remove offensive material from networks.

There are also concerns over fraudulent and counterfeit trade in personal protective equipment and anti-viral pharmaceuticals, while vacant business premises and factories have also been targeted.

Guidance issued to all 194 member states highlight new ways of tackling evolving crime, while Interpol also said it was monitoring the possible impact on police force resources caused by the pandemic.

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