Despite a fall of 600 people claiming jobless benefits - the eleventh consecutive month there has been a drop - the NI rate sits at 6.6% and is much higher than the UK rate of 3.7%.This is now the 45th month in a row that NI has had the highest or second highest UK regional unemployment rate, when measured on claimant count.Over the year, the Northern Ireland claimant count decreased by 8.2% or 5,300 people. However, this was much less than the 19.8% decrease across the UK and was the lowest annual decrease out of the 12 UK regions.While the unemployment rate remains unchanged from the previous quarter, almost a quarter of people without a job in the region are aged between 18-24 years olds.For the three months August - October 2013, the estimated rate for this category stood at 23.8% and is higher than the UK average rate of 19.1%.Overall, the Northern Ireland unemployment rate was also lower than the European Union rate of 10.9%, and the Republic of Ireland's rate of 12.6% for October 2013.Meanwhile, construction output in Northern Ireland has improved.It has increased by 2.4% compared to the second quarter of 2013, but was 2.6% lower compared to the same quarter in 2012.We will need a few more quarters of growth to say that for certain but with encouraging reports already in for the final quarter of 2013 and positive soundings on workload in 2014, it is fair to say that construction is bouncing back.John Armstrong, Construction Employers FederationConstruction output sub-sectors showed a mixed picture. New Work increased by 4.7%, but Repair & Maintenance fell by 3.1%.In quarter three of 2013, construction output in Northern Ireland was three-fifths (62%) of the average output reported for 2005.This is significantly lower compared to Great Britain. In the same quarter, overall construction output in GB was at 92% of the average output for 2005.Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: "Reflecting the positive message from the output measures, the Ulster Bank's Purchasing Managers' Index reported another strong expansion of private sector output in December. New business saw another solid expansion with exports growing at the quickest pace since October 2007."We have consistently been seeing positive signs of growth in the local economy from a range of economic data, including from recent research by the Danske Bank which suggested that consumer confidence locally is now at a record high.""Undoubtedly this increase in consumer sentiment is linked to the wider improvement seen across the economy, with many people in employment now less apprehensive about their financial future. Initiatives such as Invest Northern Ireland's Jobs Fund have been instrumental in helping local companies to create job opportunities quickly and get people into employment."While economic optimism is on the rise this is not a time for complacency, and it remains as important as ever that we continue to build on the progress to date by expanding our existing markets and seeking opportunities overseas."John Armstrong, MD of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF), said: "Since the start of last summer there has been a tentative wave of positivity in the industry. It is reassuring that today's official figures back up that sentiment.""After five torrid years, today's figures provide the strongest sign yet that the decline in construction output in Northern Ireland has finally come to an end."He added that with output having fallen so far, there is a long journey back to normal levels of activity."Delivery of public capital construction projects like schools, hospitals, stadiums, social housing, roads and water infrastructure, will be key to supporting the economic recovery in 2014."He continued: "The Chancellor has consistently boosted capital investment in recent years and Northern Ireland is benefiting as a result. There is over £1.5bn of capital funding available to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2014-15. The challenge for our ministers is to ensure that these projects get started on the ground without delay and the money is spent."Private house building will also play its part in driving economic growth this year. The local housing market is slowly warming up and we are hopeful that the introduction of the Help to Buy scheme will accelerate the recovery."