Thursday, February 28, 2008

Irish Chain Reaction

From the FT today:

Back in Vilnius, Arunas Adomaitis trained as a ­classical music conductor. Today the Lithuanian, after stints on building sites, runs Lituanica, a specialist food shop in Dublin’s Ballymun district.

Lituanica is a symbol of the changes engulfing an area that was once a byword for bad town planning. The original residents of Ballymun – established as part of an inner-city slum clearance in the 1960s – have largely moved to better housing elsewhere. Geraldine Brady, at Martin Shortt, the local letting agency, estimates 90 per cent of the occupants of the flats are now non-Irish.

While businesses such as Lituanica have contributed to the revival of areas like Ballymun, the big question now is what would happen to such communities if, as many analysts now forecast, the Irish economy falters in the face of a possible US recession and a domestic property slowdown.

Official forecasts put growth this year at little more than 2 per cent – respectable by European standards but the lowest for Ireland since the early 1990s.

Will the immigrants who lose their jobs pack up and go home – easing Ireland’s unemployment problems, just as their arrival relieved the labour market tightness? Or will they, like Mr Adomaitis, find new work and put down roots in Ireland?

The non-Irish now account for 10 per cent of Ireland’s 4.3m population and they have buoyed the labour supply and bolstered consumer demand.

Their presence has particular relevance for the housing market where, in some areas of Dublin, estate agents report the majority of new mortgage applications have been by non-nationals.

After a 10 year property boom, a cooling of the housing and construction sectors has been long predicted and, according to most economists, badly needed. The economy had become dangerously dependent on the sector, with house building alone responsible for close to a third of the growth in economic output in the past four years, reaching a peak of 13 per cent of gross domestic product in 2006. This compares with a figure of 5 per cent in the US and 4 per cent in the UK.

In the year to November house prices fell by 5.9 per cent, though rents rose 11 per cent suggesting strong underlying demand.

“People sometimes forget the economy didn’t take off because we started building houses. What happened in Ireland was not a construction-led boom in that sense,” says Eunan King, chief economist at NCB stockbrokers.

Mr King has long argued that the story of the Irish economy can be largely explained in terms of its ­positive demography.

In the 1990s – the early phase of the “Celtic Tiger” boom – it was the delayed effect of improvements in birth and mortality rates that saw the population of working age surge. This in turn attracted increased numbers of foreign multinationals, exploiting the low corporate tax regime and business friendly regulation. Large numbers of expatriate Irish were also lured back home by robust growth.

After a breather in 2001, following the collapse of the dotcom boom, the economy took off again. This time the drivers were low eurozone interest rates and the strong labour supply after Ireland, like the UK and Sweden, opened its jobs market to the new European Union accession states in May 2004.

Mr Adomaitis’s experience follows the classic pattern of what sociologists refer to as “chain migration”. He came on his own initially. His wife then joined him. The second of his two sons was born here. His sister and his wife’s sister have also become part of the extended Ireland-based family. All the signs are that he is committed to staying. The shop he set up, borrowing the money to do so, sells packaged Lithuanian soups and other food imports to the immigrant community.

But Mr King says: “We should perhaps regard this phenomenon as a pool of labour that is available to Ireland, rather than a permanent migrant population in the historic mode of inter-country migration. Thus the issue is not so much will those who are here now stay, but is the incentive sufficient to persuade a continuous inflow to be established?” The key determinant, he believes, is the continuing gap in incomes between Ireland and the accession states.

A study by the Central Statistics Office shows that of those immigrants who registered for work between 2002 and 2005, two thirds were still in employment in 2006. Comparable figures for immigrants from the US, UK and the original EU 15 showed that 70 per cent had since moved on.

There is no evidence as yet that the pace of arrivals has slackened, although there is an expectation that it will slow as fewer construction jobs become available. Mr King, like other economists, predicts a fall in house ­completions as builders wind-down their operations in the face of slower demand and at a time when there is a large stock of unsold homes.

However, he is optimistic about a likely upturn in the property market. “Anecdotal evidence suggests a sharp cut in supply is in prospect. If that is the case then rents are likely to continue to accelerate, driven by the need for accommodation for the growing population of working age.”

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Discrimination and Migration in Eastern Europe

The failure of some of the EU’s newest member states to respect their own ethnic minorities is fuelling migration to Britain, new research has revealed.

The research, carried out by GEP — the Global Economic Policy Centre — at The University of Nottingham shows Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia are much more likely to emigrate, because their mother tongue is not officially recognised by the state. Economists say similar problems in other Eastern European countries could be helping to drive the population move west.

GEP economist, Dr Tom Ivlevs said: “If the EU and A8 countries want to limit migration they should be looking to tackle this problem by introducing more efficient minority integration policies in Eastern Europe so these people feel less discriminated against.”

The A8 countries are those Eastern European nations that joined the EU in 2004: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Dr Ivlev’s research in Latvia showed that rather than being forced to learn the state language, many Russian-speaking Latvians would prefer to move to another country offering better prospects — and learn a language like English instead.

New analysis of survey data from December 2005 showed that nearly one in ten of Latvia’s 2.3 million population expected to emigrate. Dr Ivlevs found that among these, in the productive 35-44 year age group for instance, Russian speakers were more than twice as likely as Latvians to want to emigrate.

Dr Ivlevs said: “To a large extent, the example of Latvia can be generalised to other A8 countries where there are significant minority communities.

“A minor discrimination of any character, be it ethnic, linguistic, racial or religious, may lead to higher rates of emigration in minority representatives —and in certain cases the most skilled ones.”

He said all new EU member and accession states are required to ensure the integration, respect and non-discrimination of ethnic and linguistic minorities.

“In Latvia, minority schools are subsidised by the state and these support and encourage the learning of ethnic minority languages like Russian but at the expense of the state language. The problem is that only one language is recognised in the labour market — especially in the public sector — and that is Latvian. When these students graduate they are often highly skilled but find their mother tongue is not recognised in the workplace which leads them to be disadvantaged and increases their motivation to emigrate.”

The country, one of the A8 nations that joined the EU three years ago in its largest single expansion since its founding in 1957, is among the poorest in the Union. Some 41% of the population is made up of ethnic minorities, many of them former immigrants who arrived from Russia and other former Soviet republics between 1945 and 1991, and their descendants.

Dr Ivlevs believes Latvia has suffered a “minority brain-drain” — and that similar nations have suffered the same fate.

Dr Ivlevs warned: “This analysis is relevant to almost all Central and Eastern European countries that have recently joined the EU or expect to become a member in the future.”

Historically, the populations of these countries have comprised people with different ethnic, linguistic or religious origins. Some six million out of 75 million — or eight per cent — of A8 Europeans speak a minority language in their country.

Dr Ivlevs said: “In the two newest members of the EU — Bulgaria and Romania — ethnic minorities make up between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the population, suggesting that given the opportunity a significant number will want to move to Britain and other Western European states.”

A recent study at The University of Nottingham revealed ethnic minority discrimination in Eastern European states is a major cause of emigration to Western countries.
A new research study indicates some of the newest European Union (EU) member states in Eastern Europe are fueling emigration to Britain and other Western countries by failing to respect their own ethnic minorities.

Study Focuses on Latvian Language Issues
The research study, conducted by the Global Economic Policy Center (GEP) at The University of Nottingham, focused on emigration causes in Latvia. Russian-speaking Latvian minorities were found more likely to emigrate because the state does not formally recognize their native language. Apparently, Russian-speaking Latvians would rather move to another country with better working and living prospects, and learn the English language than be forced to learn the Latvian language.

Forty-one percent of Latvia’s population consists of ethnic minorities. Many of these people immigrated from Russia and other Soviet republics between 1945 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

According to data obtained In December 2005, almost one in ten Latvians expect to emigrate. The study found that Russian-speakers in the productive 35-44 age group are twice as likely to consider emigration as native Latvian-speakers.

Latvian Labor Market Limitations
The Latvian labor market, especially in the public sector, only recognizes one language - Latvian. This situation causes problems for graduates of Latvian minority schools, many of whom are highly skilled, but have difficulty finding work due to their inability to speak the Latvian language (they are encouraged to learn ethnic minority languages such as Russian). This language barrier increases the chance that minority graduates will want to emigrate to the West.

Problems in Other Eastern European Countries
Similar problems in other Eastern European countries appear to be the cause of western migration. Bulgaria and Romania, the two newest EU members, have ethnic minorities consisting of 10-15 percent of their populations. Application of the Latvian study suggests that given the opportunity, a significant number of these people will want to emigrate to Britain or other Western European states.

Regarding this potential mass migration, GEP economist Tom Ivlevs recently remarked, “If the EU and A8 counties want to limit migration they should be looking to tackle this problem by introducing more efficient minority integration policies in Eastern Europe so these people feel less discriminated against.