Jobs Data Continues to Misdirect

By Glenn Dyer | More Articles by Glenn Dyer

Once again the pandemic, lockdowns and one-off government payments to those without work have made the monthly labour force report an inaccurate picture of just what is happening to jobs.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ September (ABS) labour force report revealed a 0.1% rise in the unemployment rate increased to 4.6%, a fall in the participation rate decreased to 64.5%, a fall in total employment to 12,884,600, a drop in the employment to population ratio to 61.5%, a 0.1% fall in the underemployment rate to 9.2% and a rise in the monthly hours worked of 15 million hours.

The latter two perhaps tell a better picture of the state of the labour market – an increase in hours worked is always a good outcome, while a fall in underemployment is also encouraging

The ABS’s seasonally adjusted employment fell by 138,000 people (a drop of 1.1%) in September and Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the ABS, explained that the “extended lockdowns in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have seen employment and hours worked both drop back below their pre-pandemic levels.

Compared to March, 2020, there were 111,000 fewer employed people in September (down 0.9%) and 2.0% fewer hours worked than in March 2020.

“The low national unemployment rate continues to reflect reduced participation during the recent lockdowns, rather than strong labour market conditions,” Mr Jarvis said in Thursday’s statement.

The ABS said the fall in the national participation rate was again due to large drops in parts of the country with lockdowns in effect.

“The participation rates for Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory both fell by 1.9 percentage points, and in New South Wales by a further 0.6 percentage points, following a 2.5 percentage point drop last month,” The ABS explained..

In September, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory both recorded their lowest participation rates since the pandemic began. Victoria’s participation rate also fell but remained above the previous low during the second wave lockdown last year.

“Over the past three months, participation in the labour force has fallen by over 330,000 people, with employment falling by 281,000 people and unemployment falling by 53,000 people. Beyond people losing their jobs, or working reduced or no hours, we continue to see how challenging it is for people without work to remain active within the labour market during lockdowns. This was also reflected in the mutual obligations for jobseekers living in lockdown areas in September.”

“In September, there were large falls in employment in Victoria (123,000 people) and New South Wales (25,000 people, following the 173,000 decline in August).

This was partly offset by a 31,000 increase in Queensland, as conditions there recovered from the lockdown in early August,” Mr Jarvis said.

The November labour force report will have the first real look at the jobs market without being dominated by policies designed to lessen the blow of unemployment in the pandemic – that’s if the re-openings in NSW and Victoria go to plan.


About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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