The number of workers on company payrolls in Newry, Mourne and Down has fallen but remains above pre-pandemic levels, new figures show.
UK unemployment has dropped to its lowest figure in 50 years, according to official data from the Office for National Statistics, though soaring prices are still hitting the pockets of people across the nation as earnings fail to keep up with inflation.
In Newry, Mourne and Down, 69,104 people were in payrolled employment in March, ONS figures show.
This was down from 69,163 the month before but up from 66,374 in March 2021.
At the start of the pandemic, 67,189 people were in payrolled jobs in the area.
Different figures show that across the UK, the unemployment rate hit 3.8% in the three months to February – it has not been lower than this since 1974.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "The stats show the continued strength of our jobs market, with the number of employees on payrolls rising once again in March and unemployment falling further below pre-pandemic levels."
However, the ONS said real pay was now "falling noticeably", with regular wages excluding bonuses tumbling 1.8% after inflation in the three months to February, the steepest decline in almost nine years.
Labour has called on Mr Sunak to "show the leadership the country needs" amid the cost-of-living crisis, while Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the Chancellor has done little to help families in the current climate.
"By holding down pay in the public sector and cutting Universal Credit, he has made the crisis worse," said Ms O'Grady.
"Families need help now. Whoever is Chancellor tomorrow should go to Parliament with an emergency budget to help with surging energy bills and to get wages rising."
Jack Leslie, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, called on the Chancellor to provide more support in the autumn budget, saying: "The sheer scale of this inflation-led squeeze of living standards makes it all the more remarkable how little support the Chancellor provided in his spring statement".
Mr Sunak acknowledged this is a "worrying time" but highlighted the £22 billion in support that the Government is providing in 2022-23, including the Household Support fund.
Employment minister Mims Davies added the Government is "doing everything we can to help", including supporting people in moving into better paid, higher skilled work and increasing the National Living and Minimum Wage.
Separate ONS figures also show there has been a fall in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the Newry, Mourne and Down local authority area over the last year.
Around 3,445 people were on out-of-work benefits as of March 10, down by 2,065 from 5,510 at the same point the year before.
It meant 3.1% of the area's working population sought support in March.
The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.