Rural towns are losing up to 75pc of their workers every day because there are no jobs available locally.
Official figures show that 25 towns across the Greater Dublin Area, Cork, Clare, Wexford, Waterford and Louth see an exodus of workers during the daytime as they flock to major urban centres for work.
Data contained in the National Planning Framework (NPF) shows these dormitory towns are home to more than 57,000 workers, but fewer than 12,000 jobs are available.
The figures show the enormous challenge the Government faces to grow employment in the regions and outside the major urban centres.
The figures are drawn from Census 2016, and set out the population, number of workers and number of jobs available in almost 200 urban areas across the State.
They show that in total, 63 areas have more jobs than workers living locally – top of the list is Killorglin, in Kerry, with 2,038 jobs for a resident worker population of 922.
There are more jobs than resident workers in all the cities except Dublin, but the capital is served by workers commuting into the city.
In 63 other built-up areas, more than half the workforce leaves for work. In 25 of these, at least 75pc travel some distance to their place of employment.
Many of these towns sprawled during the Celtic Tiger boom, as rapid rises in house prices forced people out of Dublin and major cities, and into the commuter belt.
Census 2016 shows that as many as 200,000 workers – one in 10 in the State – spend an hour or more commuting to work, up by 50,000 since 2011.
The county Meath towns of Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington, where 28pc of workers commute for an hour or more, had the highest percentage. The towns are home to 4,712 workers, but only 772 jobs are available locally.
The figures show the town with the lowest density of jobs to workers is Sallins, in Co Kildare, which has a population of 5,849 people, of which 2,784 are classed as being in the workforce. Just 418 jobs are in the town, the Department of Housing document says.
“It is significant that out of a total of 154 settlements in Ireland with fewer than 10,000 people in 2016, 40 of these had a population of more than 5,000, but only 12 had more than 2,500 jobs,” the NPF adds.
“On the one hand, this highlights a number of locations where smaller settlements, by reason of accessibility, employment and local services, fulfil important roles for a wider area, many as county towns.
“But on the other, it assists in explaining why the population of this category of town has either declined or stagnated in recent years.”
Professor of economics at DCU Business School, Edgar Morgenroth, said addressing urban sprawl was key, and that a lot of the towns that were highlighted generated car travel because there was little or no public transport.
“It’s a symptom of sprawl that you get these dormitory towns but it’s not unique to Ireland,” he said.
“A lot of these places end up generating car travel. In Ratoath, you’re damned to the car. Longwood doesn’t have decent public transport.
“It’s very hard to address that because those places, if they were attractive to jobs, the jobs would already be there.
“It supports my argument that it’s high-density that attracts employment.
“Ultimately, this is about building houses and building them in the right place,” he added.
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