June 30, 2020 / 4:46 PM / 11 days ago

Irish unemployment falls, spending on the rise

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish debit and credit card spending stood just 4% lower year-on-year last week, even as separate data on Tuesday reflecting the gradual reopening of the economy showed 22.5% of the workforce were temporarily or permanently unemployed.

The unemployment rate, which stood at just 4.8% before the coronavirus pandemic, was down from 26.1% in May and a record 28.2% in April, including temporary COVID-19 jobless benefit recipients, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said.

Debit and credit card spending, including ATM withdrawals, was more than 40% lower year-on-year by mid-April after most of the economy went into lockdown at the end of March, the data from the Irish central bank showed.

The weekly data to June 22 data reflected the first two stages of a reopening plan that has been more conservative than much of Europe. The second stage allowed all retailers and shopping malls to resume trading earlier this month.

Restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and most pubs reopened for the first time since March on Monday to mark the near full exit from lockdown.

The government has sought to keep the economy afloat with a wage subsidy scheme for struggling firms who hold on to staff and the separate COVID-19 jobless payment, which is higher than regular jobless benefits and due to be phased out in August.

When added to the 220,000 on regular jobless benefits, the Irish state is supporting the incomes of almost 1 million people or over 40% of its labour force, with 439,000 claiming the COVID-19 payment and 405,000 on the wage subsidy scheme.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.3% in June from 5.6% in May, excluding the COVID-19 payment, the CSO said.

Separate central bank data on Tuesday also showed savings hit a further high in May after households put aside a combined 1.5 billion euros, though that was down from the monthly record 3 billion euros saved in April.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Alex Richardson and Alexandra Hudson

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