Earlier this year Justin Gleeson and Rob Kitchin at the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) contributed an informative blog post to IAN on the geography of unemployment in Ireland. In particular, their post addresses the lack of data on, and analysis of, the geography of unemployment at a sub-regional level.

Official unemployment data in Ireland are provided every quarter by the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS), which releases details about both the number of unemployed people and the unemployment rate at national and regional levels. In addition, on a monthly basis the CSO releases Live Register data detailing the number of claimants in each social welfare office. Based on this data release, the CSO also estimate unemployment rates at the regional level, but not at the sub-regional level.

NIRSA provided an insight into the sub-regional unemployment dynamics based on an analysis of the changes in the absolute number of claimants in all the social welfare offices. NIRSA was also able to map these dynamics based on some ground-breaking work on estimating the catchment areas of these social welfare offices. Unfortunately this does not inform us about the unemployment rates at a sub-regional level. Apart from the fact that the live register data are not designed to measure unemployment, there are no official labour force data for the individual social welfare offices. As a result, it is not possible to discuss a given catchment area’s unemployment growth in terms of that catchment area’s overall labour force.

Building on the work of NIRSA, students at the NUI Maynooth Department of Geography set out to address this issue and have estimated unemployment rates at a sub-regional level, based on the total number of claimants in social welfare offices and a proxy for the labour force: the 2006 labour force in the different catchment areas, based on the 2006 Census data.

It should be noted that a number of  caveats should be attached to the results:

1)      The number of claimants is not the same as the official number of unemployed as used in the QNHS. The Live Register is an over-estimation of the official number of unemployed since it includes, amongst others, part-time workers, seasonal workers and casual workers.

2)      The definition of the labour force applied in the Census differs from the definition applied by the QNHS.

3)      The social welfare office catchment areas developed by NIRSA are estimates, based on the assumption that a recipient will register at the nearest office to their residence.  The areas are approximate catchments, wherein the vast majority of people live within the designated area, but a relatively small number of claimants might live beyond its bounds. To get an indication of the discrepancy in the two datasets we have subtracted the number of unemployed in the Census from the Number of Claimants in the Life Register and expressed the difference as a percentage of the total labour force in 2006. For all but five of the 122 office the resulting figure was in the range of minus 4.5 per cent and plus 3.9 per cent. The main outliers concerned offices in the Dublin area. The figure for the nation as a whole was minus 1.2 per cent, indicating that the data on unemployed in the live register are lower than the numbers of unemployed in the Census but that the effect on the unemployment rate is relatively limited.

4)      The labour force has experienced significant changes since 2006 due to natural dynamics and migration effects. The effect for the overall period appears to be limited – between June 2006 and June 2010 the labour force shrank by 20,000. However, the effect for individual areas may be greater.

All these issues together mean that we have to be very careful in interpreting the calculated unemployment rate figures. The figures strongly overestimate the official figures presented in the recent QNHS. However, the results may nonetheless serve as an informative analysis of the geography of Irish unemployment since most of the issues influence the figures for all sub-regions in the same way.

The map below presents the geography of “unemployment rates” in September 2010 (with thanks to Justin Gleeson at NIRSA). A relatively large number of areas with high unemployment rates are found in The Border Region, The Midlands the South-East and the ‘Eastern Corridor’. But great intra-regional and even intra-county differences exist. Striking are the relatively low unemployment rates in many areas of County Dublin, County Kerry (with the notable exception of Tralee) and West Cork. In comparison, the urban centres of Dublin, Cork and Galway appear to be faring relatively better.

Chris van Egeraat

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