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100,000 people trapped in underemployment – headline employment figures mask worrying trends

Over 100,000 people are currently working part-time hours, but would take full-time employment if they could find it.  This figure has increased by 25 per cent since 2008 and points to a worrying employment trend in Ireland.  This is one of the key findings from Social Justice Ireland's latest Employment Monitor. Some of this part-time work gives rise to increased dependency on state income supports.

Approximately 13 per cent of people in part-time employment are in receipt of (reduced) Jobseekers allowance or Jobseekers benefit.  This raises issues of income adequacy and the growing difficulty in generating quality sustainable full-time employment.

Although many employment indicators are positive, hidden within headline employment figures are a number of problems, including significant underemployment, high levels of low pay, and hundreds of thousands of workers earning a wage that is below subsistence level.   A change of narrative is required. Improving headline employment figures are important, but the drive for stronger job creation should not come at the cost of diminishing job quality and security.

As employment numbers continue to improve, issues relating to the quality of employment and adequacy of income must figure more prominently in the policy discussion.  A sustained and well-supported public investment programme can help push Ireland towards levels of employment required to properly meet demand whilst addressing some major infrastructural deficits in areas such as social housing, broadband and other necessary capital infrastructure.

In order to deliver such a public investment programme Ireland needs a new economic model.  One that generates the necessary revenue to provide the services needed and that creates decent and appropriate employment for everyone in the country who wants it.

Social Justice Ireland’s Employment Monitor is available here.