Ulster: Jobless figures highlight stark inequality: After 20 years of direct rule from London, there is still a wide socio-economic gap between the communities. David McKittrick reports

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The Independent Online
AS THE tables illustrate, Catholics and Protestants have radically different employment experiences. The Catholic male unemployment rate is double that of anywhere else in the UK, while Protestant unemployment, by contrast, is among the lowest.

One slightly encouraging sign is that by one measurement the differential has narrowed. Catholic men used to be 2.5 times more likely to be jobless than their Protestant counterparts; this has now dropped to 2.2 times. The figure for women, which stands at 1.8 times, has actually risen slightly.

Analysis of the latest census data shows that the disparity remains striking. It reveals that 28.4 per cent of all Catholic economically active men are unemployed, compared to 12.7 per cent of Protestant men.

Of the 50 local government wards with the highest unemployment rates, 45 are exclusively or predominantly Catholic. In striking contrast, the 80 wards with the lowest unemployment are exclusively or predominantly Protestant.

Most of the worst areas are almost entirely Catholic, as shown by the top eight jobless areas.

The most concentrated problem lies in the Catholic areas of west and north Belfast, where more than 11,000 people in the cramped and deprived ghettos have no jobs. Here, overall unemployment touches 50 per cent, with male unemployment reaching 58 per cent in some wards. Within these wards there are further blackspots. In six areas of west and north Belfast, for example, male joblessness in public housing estates reaches almost two-thirds of all men. And within these estates are pockets where, according to local politicians and community activists, almost no one has a job.

Many of those who have work are among the lowest-paid in society. For example, some agencies who supply women to clean city-centre offices at night pay their staff as little as pounds 1.05 an hour. The contrast with the expanding Catholic middle class could not be more striking. While many Catholics are now making progress, especially in Northern Ireland's abnormally large public sector, large sections of the working class are barely connected to the labour market and have been economically and socially left behind.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MALE UNEMPLOYMENT (%) BY UK REGION ----------------------------------------------------------------- N Ireland Catholics 24.2 N Ireland 13.9 North-west 12.6 West Midlands 12.5 Yorks & Humberside 12.0 Wales 11.7 Scotland 11.1 South-east 10.9 East Midlands 10.5 South-west 10.4 N Ireland Protestants 10.1 East Anglia 8.2 ----------------------------------------------------------------- (Source: official labour force surveys. These figures differ slightly from census data.) -----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------- AREAS OF HIGHEST UNEMPLOYMENT ----------------------------------------------------------------- Ward % male unemployment % Catholic Brandywell (L'derry) 60 99 Falls (W Belfast) 58 97 Whiterock (W Belfast) 58 100 New Lodge (N Belfast) 56 95 Ardoyne (N Belfast) 53 99 Creggan Central (L'derry) 52 99 Crossmaglen (S Armagh) 51 98 Upper Springfield (W Belfast) 51 100 Shantallow West (L'derry) 50 97 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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