Much has been said and written about rural decline in Ireland particularly in the last few years. However despite this there are very few measures which capture ‘rural’ change in a statistical sense.
To date rural decline is often described in the context of rural challenges such as out migration, population loss and the withdrawal of services in rural areas but there are few statistical measures capturing trends in rural and urban areas, with the notable exception of rural and urban poverty rates reported in the CSO Survey of Income and living conditions (SILC).
Measuring rural employment – Regions
Measuring rural change in the context of job creation has focused on the observable change at NUTS3 level with the fortunes of the 8 regional authority areas reported regularly in the Regional Action Plans for Jobs. However, each of these 8 regions (Dublin, Mid East, West, South West, Midlands, North East/North West and South east), comprise both urban and rural areas of varying degrees.
It is clear that much of the recent job creation has been focussed on the cities and by only examining regional figures the significant differences between urban and rural areas are not captured. So for example in the case of the West region, much job creation is located in Galway city while counties Mayo and Roscommon would not have experienced the same degree of employment growth.
Realising our Rural Potential Action Plan for Rural Development, download here published in January 2017, is the Government’s action plan aimed at ‘ensuring the success of vibrant rural communities’ and provides for 276 targeted actions across five themes. One of the main targets is the objective to support the creation of 135,000 jobs in rural Ireland.
However in monitoring the success of rural job creation, the measure reported is employment creation across the 8 NUTS3 regions, with rural classified as the 7 NUTS3 regions – excluding the Dublin region and as such is essentially a regional measure.
Possibly part of the reason for the lack of a measure of rural employment or unemployment is the difficulty in agreeing a measure of rural. Rural is defined in many ways – succinctly summarised in a recent WDC Insights blogpost What is Rural?
The CSO measure of Rural used in the CSO SILC since 2014 defines urban as areas with a population density of greater than 1,000 and rural as those areas with a population density of 999 or less.
Very recently the CSO have provided data from the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) on employment and unemployment by NUTS3 region and broken down by densely, intermediate and thinly populated areas. This is based on a Eurostat definition based on degree of urbanisation, with three categories, densely, intermediate and thinly populated areas. See here for the detailed definition.
Under this measure, the entire Dublin region is all classed as densely populated, while the Border region for example has no densely populated category and is only composed of intermediate and thinly populated areas.
The Table below shows the unemployment rates for the Border and State by type of population area in 2014 and 2017.
Table 1. ILO unemployment rates, Border region and State and type of Population Area, 2014 and 2017
Nationally the unemployment rate in 2014 was 10.9% in densely populated areas, compared to 12.2% in thinly populated areas, but the highest rate is in the intermediate area – 12.4%.
With the exception of the densely populated area in the South-East, the intermediate area in the Border region has the highest unemployment rate in 2014, 16.2%, compared to 12.0 % in the thinly populated area. There is no densely populated category within the Border region- counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.
By 2017 there is some evidence of convergence across regions and areas, with unemployment rates declining across all categories. Nationally the rate is 6.4%, while the unemployment rate for the Border region is 6.6%. However the intermediate area in the Border remains the area with the highest levels of unemployment across all categories with 9.6%.
The intermediate areas, broadly defined as Towns and suburbs (see here for the detailed definition), are the areas most impacted by unemployment, though there are regional differences.
As such this CSO measure of economic status based on the QNHS data with trend data at NUTS3 and with a rural/urban dimension is a valuable tool. It provides a measure of rural change which is more nuanced and which can provide better insights than relying exclusively on the NUTS3 Regional measure.