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Returning emigrants to expand workforce and slow downward trend in unemployment

about 7 hours ago

Eoin Burke-Kennedy




On current trends, unemployment will fall below 7 per cent next year, eclipsing even the most optimistic forecasts. However, there is a health warning attached to these predictions.

At the height of the financial crisis in 2012, when Ireland’s unemployment rate was 15.2 per cent, emigration acted as a safety valve, preventing it from getting a lot worse.

Now the opposite may be about to happen. Net inward migration, in other words returning emigrants, is likely to slow the rapid employment growth we’ve seen up to this point.

According to the CSO, net migration in the 12 months to April 2013 was -33,000. This fell to -21,000 the following year and to -12,000 last year.

The figures for this year, due out in matter of weeks, are expected to confirm the trend.

All of which points to the re-emergence of net inward migration. Combined with natural population growth this should see the labour force expand significantly over the next five years.

Mindful of this, the Government recently pushed back its target for achieving full employment – roughly about 6 per cent – to 2020 instead of 2018.

Another reason why the assault on full employment might be more difficult relates to why our level of full employment level is higher than in other advanced countries.

Many economists believe the higher rate reflects a mismatch of skills in the Irish labour market.

Roughly half of the workers who left over the last five years were university educated, contrary to assertions that construction workers accounted for the bulk of the exodus.

The flipside is that of the immigrants that came here in the past five years, more than half of them were university educated.

This suggests that while the economy is creating high-skilled jobs the universities are not supplying graduates with the right qualifications.

A key factor in all this is language skills. Ireland is ranked down the bottom in Europe in terms of linguistic skills.

That said, there is a lot of positives to take from the latest monthly numbers, which put the State’s headline jobless rate at 7.8 per cent for June, equating to annual decrease of 36,600 or 1.6 per cent.

The figures show the traditional danger points of long-term unemployed and youth unemployment, which so bedevilled the economy in the early 1990s, have improved significantly.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) also believes the current demand for new builds in the construction sector will underpin a significant level of employment growth going forward.