The Irish Times view on the latest jobs figures: encouraging trends must not be taken for granted

There is work to do - looking at competitiveness in the widest sense - to keep Ireland’s jobs market firing

Ireland’s jobs market has been the keystone of economic progress in recent years. And the latest figures show that the numbers at work are continuing to rise, while unemployment remains at a low level.

The latest Labour Force Survey data from the Central Statistics Office shows that annual employment rose by almost 90,000 last year to reach a record high of over 2.7 million . Against an uncertain economic backdrop, including a cost-of-living squeeze due to higher inflation, this was an encouraging performance.

In the longer-term, the jobs market has delivered and more people at work are the key factor driving higher living standards in households. The numbers at work fell below 2 million after the financial crash, but over the past decade the trend has been steadily upwards.

This success, however, should not be taken for granted. There are signs in the data – and in separate CSO figures published earlier this week – that the job’s market may be topping out. In recent months, for example, growth in the number of full-time jobs has stalled and increases have been mainly in part-time employment. Close to one quarter or those in part-time work would prefer to work longer hours.

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There are also signs that while the accommodation and food sector is reviving, activity in this key area for jobs remains well below the levels seen before the pandemic.

These are not reasons for alarm, but they do bring a variety of policy issues into focus. Many businesses are struggling under the burden of higher costs – while on the other side of the equation more people are extending their working lives, or taking a second job, to try to make ends meet. Longer term infrastructure issues – in housing, water, energy and elsewhere – are a threat to both domestic businesses and foreign direct investment, as well as having wider social consequences.

Competitiveness is often thought of in terms of costs – but in fact it is much wider. There is work to do to keep Ireland’s jobs market firing.