Listening to the various commentators about the state of the Midwest’s economy it is hard to get an accurate picture of the overall health of the region. What would an economic recovery in Limerick look like? Is it already happening? If it is happening, when will it be complete? When will Limerick be back to pre-recession levels? And just how bad did it get?
One crude measurement of how the economy of Limerick is progressing is by comparing the levels of unemployment in Limerick from pre and post recession. The CSO publish figures for the numbers of unemployed people in Limerick city, Limerick county, Kilmallock and Newcastle West from March 2002 to date. They give some indication of the health of Limerick’s economy over the past 15 years. I have included the full table below but it’s worth looking at four months in particular to get an overall picture of the the last 15 years.
In March 2002 there was 15,352 people unemployed in Limerick city and county. This figure dropped down to 13,506 in November 2005. November 2005 represents the best month Limerick had in terms of unemployment figures in the last 14 years. There is an theory that every economy has a natural rate of unemployment, that is a figure combining both structural and frictional unemployment which would be expected to hold steady in a long term economy outside of cyclical influences. For Limerick that figure would appear to be somewhere between 13,500 and 15,000 people considering the overall health of the National economy at that time. With this figure in mind, just how bad did things get in the recession?
By August 2010 the number of people signing on as unemployed had reached a staggering 46,830. It is worth reflecting on the number. It is over three times as high as unemployment was in in the stable years from 2002 to 2006. It represents the collapse of Ireland’s economic sovereignty (as played out county by county), it represents the return of mass emigration after 20 years of inward migration but more than that it represents on a human scale the level of damage that Limerick suffered in a extraordinarily short period of time. Every one of those figures is an individual who had to defer their plans and was unable to live the life they wanted to. Collectively it is the stark figure of families separated by unemployment, of the struggles the Midwest endured along with the rest of the country. It is a number that still echoes throughout the region. 46,830 represents 24.24% of the entire population of the county. It is a tragic figure and it is one we should remember when we speak about the reality of unemployment in Limerick.
It is important to though to acknowledge that from that nadir things have improved. The most recent figure for people signing on is from November 2016 and is 22,288. It is a huge credit to the people of the city and the county collectively the economy of the region has recovered. There is a prevailing sense that any recovery is exaggerated or not being felt outside Dublin and the east coast but these figures do indicate there has been a substantial reduction in the number of the people registered as unemployed.
At 22,288 people the unemployment rate is still at a high figure, certainly too high a figure to forget how much hard work still lies ahead but it is important to acknowledge how much has been achieved. The below graph demonstrates the massive economic shock Limerick suffered in from July 2007 to August 2010, combined with the period of stability beforehand and the relative recovery that has occurred since.
It is worth comparing the above graph with a graph which represents the entire country.
It is interesting to post these figures because, as mentioned, there is a perception that Limerick’s recovery still lags behind Dublin and the east coast. It is quite clear that there has been a substantial recovery in terms of figures. It is also quite clear that Limerick is somewhat in sync with the rest of the country.
In order to be sure that these figures don’t represent emigration it is worth noting that the population of Limerick has actually increased over the last 5 years, from 191,809 in 2011 to 195,175 in 2016. While this is a very modest increase for the county the size of Limerick it is encouraging that the number didn’t stay static or decline. As the population is increasing and the unemployment rate is improving it is clear that the economy is recovering somewhat.
|Population 2011 (Number)||191,809|
|Population 2016 (Number)||195,175|
|Actual change since previous census (Number)||3,366|
|Percentage change since previous census (%)||1.8|
|Population 2011 (Number)||57,106|
|Population 2016 (Number)||58,319|
|Actual change since previous census (Number)||1,213|
|Percentage change since previous census (%)||2.1|
|Population 2011 (Number)||134,703|
|Population 2016 (Number)||136,856|
|Actual change since previous census (Number)||2,153|
|Percentage change since previous census (%)||1.6|
Of course, these figures are blunt instruments. They do not reveal how many people returned into education, are on work placement schemes or are not receiving assistance. Crucially these figures do not tell us who is actually working. We know from a recent Central Bank study that the Participation Rate in the Irish Labour Force has not yet recovered to it’s pre-crash levels. It currently stands at 60% as opposed to a pre-crash high of 64%. These figures also do not reveal that nature of the work, if the work is permanent or contract. At best they give another indication that Limerick is on the right path. Taken with other figures such as the 14% house price rise in Limerick in 2016 and the increase in FDI jobs in the Midwest it is clear that a recovery of sorts has taken hold in Limerick.
The city and county are still some distance from the heyday of November 2005 but it is important that we acknowledge that things are getting better if only to discuss what happens next and how we can use this recovery to ensure everyone benefits from the improvements as they come. We need to ensure that workers aren’t being exploited by instruments like zero hour contracts or unfair work practices. It is important that we do take the time to acknowledge that even if we haven’t recovered to pre-crash levels that at least we are in the midst of a recovery. These figures remind of us where we have come from, and how much we still have to improve on. 46,830 in August 2010 to 22,288 in November 2016 is a significant change, even if the numbers do not tell us the full story.
Figures for the numbers of unemployed in Limerick month on month from March 2002 to November 2016.
|Social Welfare Office||2002M01||2002M02||2002M03||2002M04||2002M05||2002M06||2002M07||2002M08||2002M09||2002M10||2002M11||2002M12|