How is Unemployment Measured


Commentators look to both the International Labour Organisation (ILO) measurement of unemployment in the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS), and the Live Register to assess current levels of unemployment.

The Live Register is not designed as a measurement of unemployment as it includes people who are legitimately working part time and signing on part time.

The ILO is the internationally recognised measurement of unemployment. The definition of 'unemployed' used by the ILO does not include some people who are entitled to unemployment payments, and therefore included on the Live Register.

The two sets of figures measure different things, but both give us useful insights into current labour market trends. The Live Register Statement is published monthly, and a county by county breakdown is available. The ILO- QNHS is published 4 times a year and provides a national average unemployment figure, plus a regional breakdown dividing the country into eight regions.
Neither set of figures provide a 'community' based breakdown of unemployment, and neither set of statistics can tell us the proportion of people who are repeatedly unemployed - moving from unemployment into work, and back to unemployment again.

Below we examine how the Live Register and the ILO-QNHS are compiled, who is included, and what other labour market figures are available within both sets of statistics.

Live Register

Compiled: From returns made directly to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) by each of the local offices of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Included on the Live Register are:

  • All those on Jobseekers Benefit (JB) - excluding systematic short-time workers
  • All those on Jobseekers Allowance (JA) - excluding smallholders/farm assists and self-employed persons
  • Part-time workers (those who work up to 3 days a week), seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseekers Allowance or Benefit.
  • Those signing on for 'PRSI credits' but receiving no payment.

Published: By the CSO, on the first Friday of every month at 11am by the CSO. The figures are updated on this web-site as soon as they are available. Along with these figures is a LR area analysis which gives LR totals for each county and a flow analysis – the numbers joining the LR monthly and the derived outflow.

Additional Figures: The CSO produces an age by duration analysis which is released biannually.

Standardised Unemployment Rate: Published with each monthly Live Register analysis. The figure is based on a comparison between the annual unemployment figure taken in April of the year in question from the corresponding ILO -QNHS figure, and the seasonally adjusted live register figure for the month.


Compiled: From household surveys conducted continuously throughout the year. The results are published in four quarters Q1 December - February, Q2 March - May, Q3 June - August, Q4 September - November.

The ILO definitions of 'unemployed' and 'in employment' are

  • 'Unemployed': persons who in the week before the survey, were without work and available for work and had taken specific steps, in the previous four weeks to find work.
  • 'In Employment': persons who worked in the week before the survey for one hour or more for payment or profit, including work on the family farm or business and all persons who had a job but were not at work because of illness, holidays etc. in the week.
  • The 'Labour Force' is the combination of these two totals.

Published: By the CSO, four times per year, usually within 3 months of the end of the quarter which is being published.

Additional Figures:

  • Regional Unemployment Figures: The QNHS is broken down into 8 regions, and the unemployment figure for each of these is published in the quarterly reports. The regions are: Dublin; Border: Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, Sligo; Midland: Laois, Longford, Offaly, Westmeath; West: Galway, Mayo, Roscommon; Mid-East: Kildare, Meath, Wicklow; Mid-West: Clare, Limerick, Tipperary North Riding; South- East: Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary South Riding, Waterford, Wexford; South- West: Cork, Kerry.
  • Marginally attached to the Labour Force: This figure refers to people who are unemployed but who have not actively sought work in the last four weeks. In most cases people in this group have experienced long periods of unemployment and have become discouraged. People in this category are not classified as 'unemployed'.
  • Potential Labour Supply: This figure includes those classified as unemployed, plus the marginally attached to the labour force, plus underemployed part-time workers, plus those not in education who want to work.
  • Principal Economic Status: Respondents are asked what is their usual situation with regard to employment and given the following response categories; At work, unemployed, student, engaged on home duties, retired, other.