Unemployment is falling, with the number of people with a job expected to average the two million mark this year.

And the jobless rate is set to drop to 8.8pc, before slipping further to 8.4pc next year.

Data from the Central Statistics Office due to be released today will, it is expected, confirm the continuing drop in unemployment. But there’s one aspect that tends not to get as much coverage, and that’s underemployment. This concerns the number of people who are languishing in part-time jobs, but are ready and willing to work longer.

And it has been persistent in Ireland and across most European countries, although there are signs here of a gradual improvement.

Under-employment includes not only the unemployed, but also those who are forced to take part-time work because they can’t get anything better with longer hours.

Figures from Eurostat, Europe’s statistical agency, shows that just over a quarter of those who were working part-time last year – or about 111,000 – were classed as being underemployed.

And, although it is improving, Ireland’s rate of underemployment as a percentage of the workforce is one of the highest in the European Union.

In 2015, 4.6pc of the total number of people employed wanted to work longer hours. In Ireland, the figure was 5.7pc. Countries with higher numbers included Greece, Spain, France, Cyprus and the Netherlands. The UK was just behind Ireland at 5.6pc. Among the population aged 15 to 74 in the EU, 220 million were employed, 23 million were unemployed and 136 million were economically inactive in 2015.

Around eight in every 10 people employed in the EU were working full time and two in 10 part-time. Among the 44.7 million working part-time, 10 million were underemployed.

It’s a problem also affecting the labour market in the United States. The drop in unemployment there at the end of 2015 was accompanied by an uptick in underemployment.

And a new analysis from the Federal Reserve points out that underemployment may be worse than the figures have suggested.

It’s not all gloomy though. The data shows improvement.

Three years ago, there were 147,000 people classed as underemployed in Ireland, reflecting about a third of the amount of people in part-time work.

The countries in Europe with the highest percentage of underemployed workers included Greece, at 71.8pc of part-time workers, Cyprus at 68pc, Spain at 54pc and Portugal at 46.4pc.

The lowest were Denmark at 9.5pc, the Czech Republic at 9.6pc, Estonia at 12pc and Luxembourg at 13.2pc.

Article Source: Irish Independent