DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s unemployment rate more than trebled to 16.5% at the end of March including those receiving emergency coronavirus jobless benefits, the state’s statistics office said on Thursday, ahead of a likely further surge this month.
Ireland began introducing a series of restrictions to slow the spread of the virus a month ago. The associated closure of many industries erased in just a single month eight years of record jobs growth that cut the unemployment rate to 4.8%.
The standard monthly unemployment estimate rose to just 5.4% from 4.8% in February, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said, as those in receipt of the new welfare payment “do not meet the internationally agreed criteria to be considered as unemployed”.
The new COVID-19-adjusted unemployment measure was based on the 283,037 people on the higher emergency payment and 207,200 on regular benefits at the end of the month. A further 224,000 received the emergency payment in the first three days of April, the employment affairs office said on Monday.
That implied an additional coronavirus-adjusted jump in the unemployment rate to 26% already this month, Davy Stockbrokers chief economist Conall MacCoille estimated this week.
A further 25,104 on the new temporary wage subsidy scheme at the end of March, a number that has also shot up since, are not included in the adjusted unemployment measures as they retain an attachment to their employer, the CSO said.
Such employees remain on company payrolls but the state is paying 70% of their wages up to a maximum of 410 euros per week.
“This new COVID-19 Adjusted Monthly Unemployment measure should be considered as the upper bound for the true rate of unemployment and the standard monthly rate as the lower bound,” CSO senior statistician Edel Flannery said in a statement.
The largest previous increase in a single month was a one percentage point jump just over a decade ago and it took more than four years for the series to climb to the post-financial crisis high of 16% in 2012.
The highest unemployment rate recorded since the CSO began publishing the series 37 years ago was 17.3% in 1985 when Ireland was a much poorer country.
Many of Ireland’s large multinational technology employers are less exposed to the domestic coronavirus restrictions and Irish property firm Hibernia REIT <HBRN.I> said on Wednesday that it had pre-let three floors of a central Dublin office to a digital arm of U.S. industrial giant 3M Co <MMM.N>.
While Ireland’s central bank expects the unemployment rate to hit around 25% during the second quarter, it predicted a fall back to 12.6% by year end if the current containment measures against the virus last three months.
Irish citizens were ordered on March 27 to stay home until at least this Sunday. Health Minister Simon Harris said on Thursday he expects to be advised to keep the limitations in place for a “period of weeks”.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin Editing by Catherine Evans/Mark Heinrich)