This morning saw the release of the second summary publication presenting the results of the 2011 census relating to socio-economic topics. Some quick reflections on employment trends. The headline figures are shocking, but don’t come as a surprise. In April 2011 the labour force stood at 2.23 million, an increase of about 123,000 or 5.8 per cent since 2006. The average annual increase of 1.1 per cent reflects a serious slow down compared to the previous, inter-censal period when growth averaged 4 per cent. Numbers at work fell by about 123,000 over the five-year period while the number of unemployed workers increased by about 245,000, up 136.7 per cent.

 In April 2011, the unemployment rate as defined by the Census was 19 per cent (this is not the same as the official unemployment rate as defined by the ILO, which stood at 14.3 per cent). The 19 per cent figure arguably underestimates the scale of the problem if we take account of the fact that a substantial number of workers have moved out of the labour force for a range of reasons. Apart from the emigration vent, the report shows that the student population grew by 16.9 per cent since 2006. In particular, the male student population has experienced a strong increase with participation rates for 19 to 24 year of males increasing from 27.1 in 2006 to 38.9 per cent in 2011. Against the background of very high male youth unemployment rates (41.1% for 20-24 year old males) we may assume that quite a number of young males are finding refuge in the education sector. Overall, the total number of people outside the labour force was up by about 110,000.

Geographically, there are substantial differences in how the various local authorities fared. Limerick City, Donegal and Waterford City are topping the unemployment league with unemployment rates between 25 and 29 per cent. On the other end, below average unemployment rates are evident in Dublin City (18.5%) and its suburbs Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (11.2%) and Fingal (16%), the commuter belt counties Kildare ( (17.9%) and Meath (18%), Cork County (14.8%), Limerick County (17.5%) and Galway County (18.1%). The greatest percentage point increases in the inter-censal period were experienced in Offaly, Wexford and Limerick City. Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Dublin City and Galway City experienced the smallest increase.

The general pattern is one of relatively low unemployment rates in the commuter belts of the main cities. The main cities are characterised by higher unemployment rates than their commuter zones but Dublin City (18.5%), Galway City (18.6%) and, to a lesser degree, Cork City are performing much better than Waterford City and Limerick City. In addition Dublin City, Galway City and Cork City have experienced amongst the lowest percentage point increases. Unemployment appears to be more a regional issue than a city-hinterland issue. These figures corroborate the findings of a recent analysis by Proinnsias Breathnach and me of the annual Forfás Employment Survey which monitors employment trends in firms which have received assistance from the government’s economic development agencies (see here). We showed how almost 80 per cent of jobs created by new foreign firms in the last decade were located in Dublin, Cork and Galway. The share of these three Gateways of all foreign employment rose markedly, from 49% to 58%, while Waterford and Limerick are losing share.

The Census analysis at Electoral Division level shows that substantial intra-city differences exist. Over half of the country’s unemployment 81 ‘blackspots’ (EDs where unemployment rates exceeded 35%) are found in Limerick City, Cork City, Dublin, City, Waterford City and South Dublin.

At an industrial level the greatest loss in employment occurred in the construction sector (-120,000) followed by manufacturing (-50,000). Most of the services sectors experienced employment growth. Employment in education grew by over 36,000, up 28.4%. Interestingly, employment levels in the financial services sector were up 9 per cent since 2006. I suggest that here the internationally traded segment is making up for the job-losses on the domestic front. Even ignoring the anomaly of the Irish construction industry, these figures reflect an ongoing international trend towards a tertiarisation of the economy. The services sector now accounts for 78 per cent of all employment in Ireland.

Whether this is a good or bad development clearly depends on the type of service jobs and the related earnings. The dynamics of persons at work by intermediate occupational group give us some insight – although the taxonomy is not unproblematic and lumps quite different occupations into the same categories (for a discussion see, Breathnacht, 2007). Most of the better paid informational economy occupations are experiencing employment growth. Managers and executives increased from about 123,000 to about 138,000, up 12.3 per cent. Other high-earning occupations experiencing growth include scientific and technical, health and related, teachers, central and local government, computer software and other professional. On the other end, we note gains in the relatively low earning personal services (up 7.8%) and sales (4.0%) occupations. Importantly, these two categories now account for over a quarter of all people at work. The falls in clerical and office occupations (-15.3%), engineering and allied trades (-27.3%), electrical trades (-30.2) and other manufacturing (-52.4%) may point to “a disappearing middle”. Although more detailed analysis is required the data seem to suggest a continued professionalization as well as polarisation of our society, a trend that started in the 1990s (Breathnach, 2007).

The spatial distribution of the various occupations has important implications for inter-regional spatial polarisation and balanced regional development. The data on socio-economic groups show clearly how the higher-income earning social groupings ‘employers and managers’ and ‘higher professionals’ are disproportionately concentrated in the East Region (See Rob Kitchin’s post today).

Chris.vanegeraat@nuim.ie

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