Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Wednesday, 12 May 2010 12:45 UK

NI jobless total begins to fall

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The number of people unemployed in NI rose in March

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in Northern Ireland has fallen for the first time in more than two years.

The number on unemployment related benefits stood at 55,400 in April 2010, down 200 over the month, a 0.4% drop.

This represents the first fall in dole queues for 27 months.

However, it was the smallest decrease among the 12 UK regions, with the UK as a whole recording a monthly decrease of 1.8%.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment also uses another method to measure quarterly unemployment.

The Labour Force Survey takes a representative sample by asking households about their status.

It suggests that the NI rate of unemployment between January and March was 6.7%.

This represented an increase from the rate of 6.0% recorded in the previous quarter and was also up from the rate of 6.2% recorded in the same period in 2009.

The survey is used to give a comparative rate across the European Union, because methods of claiming benefits differ between nations.

It suggests that NI is below the rate in the UK, 8.0%, the European Union average, 9.6% and the Irish Republic, 13.2%.

The latest figures also point to a small decrease in Northern Ireland's high rate of economic inactivity.

That is defined by people who are not in employment but are not actively seeking jobs.

It fell by 13,000 over the quarter but still stands at 27.1% of the working age population, considerably higher than the UK average rate (21.5%) and the highest of the twelve UK regions.

Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster, welcomed the small drop in the claimant count.

"Most economic commentators believe that the recovery, when it comes, will follow a pattern of slow growth," she said.

"However, we can seek to accelerate this growth by actively looking to expand our markets where the opportunity exists."

Northern Bank Chief Economist Angela McGowan said the figures were still cause for concern.

"The proportion of local unemployed people who are now classified as long-term unemployed is sitting at 37.9 per cent," she said.

"In addition, the proportion of unemployed 18-24 year olds rose to 16.1 per cent in the first quarter.

"Long-term unemployment is a more difficult issue to resolve and youth unemployment tends to have lasting scars on an individual's future earning capacity."

She said the new Westminster government may have an impact on the labour market.

"The Lib-Dem insistence that employees earning less than £10,000 will be exempt from income tax might help incentivise some of Northern Ireland's inactive population back into the labour market in the longer-term.

"However, the new Tory/ Lib-Dem coalition is determined to make public spending cuts very soon and for the local economy that has significant implications for our public sector workers. Without doubt the local labour market will remain fragile in the months ahead."

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