By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN –The jobless rate has plummeted to its lowest level in 16 years as stage one of the government’s crackdown on spongers has led to huge numbers signing off the dole.
Just over 214,000 people were receiving dole payments in January, a fall of 1,700 in the month.
The fall resulted from the economic boom, job training or education offers to young people and the return to work by people temporarily employed by schools and laid off over the Christmas holiday period.
The unemployment fall would have been greater if workers like fishermen and builders had not signed on when the bad weather resulted in temporary layoffs in their industries.
Half the dole claimants aged under 25 who were referred for interview under an employment action plan signed off.
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Figures released by Social Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern showed the plan has paid huge dividends so far.
Interviews were given to 2,665 between September and November. By the end of November, 1,266 of these had left the dole despite the fact that only 500 of them had been placed in jobs or training.
This action plan is now to be extended to other groups of dole claimants. Ahern said 78 percent of those who didn’t attend their interview had signed off.
“There was no apparent reason,” Ahern said. “That raises very serious questions. It confirms the view of the government that we were correct in targeting a particular cohort. We will be extending it for those between 23 and 35 in the coming months.
“Once we cross over the 25-year-old threshold we will be into the difficult area, as all the studies show that those between 25 and 50 are the people who have the least educational attainment.”
Ahern believes the jobless figures will come down further. He said when people signing on for credits or being assessed were taken into account, the real jobless total was about 183,000.