Australian unemployment in detail

ScreenHunter_01 Jun. 08 23.33

By Leith van Onselen

As summarised earlier, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today released labour force data for the month of January, which registered a 0.2% seasonally-adjusted increase in the headline unemployment rate – the highest level in a decade! The result disappointed analysts expectations, who had expected unemployment to increase to 5.9% only, as well as a 15,000 gain in employment.

Total employment fell by a seasonally adjusted 3,700 jobs, with full-time jobs falling by 7,100 to 7,953,000 offset by a 3,400  increase in part-time employment to 3,506,500. However, aggregate monthly hours worked rose by 20.5 million hours to 1,635.8 million hours, which is one big positive from the report.

The participation rate also fell ever so slightly to 64.5% to the lowest level since January 2006.

ScreenHunter_1220 Feb. 13 12.07
ScreenHunter_1221 Feb. 13 12.07

Despite the rapidly growing population, total employment is at its lowest level since March 2013 (see next chart).

ScreenHunter_1222 Feb. 13 12.09

With all the jobs growth part-time and full-time jobs retrenching (see next chart):

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And the proportion of workers in full-time jobs at its lowest level on record:

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Three of the five mainland states lost jobs over the year, with overall jobs growth very weak (see next chart).

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Whereas the Southern States have the highest unemployment rates (see next chart).

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The state seasonally-adjusted figures are notoriously volatile and subject to a big margin of error. As such, the below chart shows the ABS’ trend unemployment rates, which shows Western Australia with the lowest unemployment, Tasmania and South Australia with the highest, and Victorian unemployment rising:

ScreenHunter_1227 Feb. 13 12.21

One big positive from this release is that the aggregate number of hours worked surged in January and was up by 2.0% over the year:

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The below chart, which tracks the changes in hours worked on a trend basis, shows a mixed bag across the states:

ScreenHunter_1229 Feb. 13 12.25

The weakening labour market, combined with Australia’s aging population, has seen the employment-to-population ratio and the participation rate fall to their lowest level in around 9 and 7 years respectively in trend terms (see next chart).

ScreenHunter_1230 Feb. 13 12.27

The below chart summarises the annual change in the key employment aggregates:

ScreenHunter_1231 Feb. 13 12.30

Obviously, the Australian labour market remains very weak, with jobs growth still well below the level required to absorb population growth (with all of the growth in employment over the past year part-time), and both the employment-to-population ratio and participation rate continuing to trend down. The only upside is that the aggregate number of hours worked rose to a record high, which could signal incipient demand for labour. That said, with the upcoming unwinding of the once-in-a-century mining boom and the exit of the Australian car industry, the median-term outlook is poor.

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Leith van Onselen


  1. Leith
    Is there any chance of getting a longer time scale graph of the Aggregate Hours Worked, as it is my belief that the high casualisation of our workforce and a national wide slump in hours worked is what actually got us through the GFC?

  2. Watching hockey on TV now. Looks totally lost and flustered.

    Will improve jobs by “fixing” the budget…oh my. ZIRP here we come.

    Lose your job at Toyota – no prblem….jobs are now emerging in IT….

  3. Go the Vics,

    Who said they were in recession?

    2500 car jobs in 3yrs? Phfft, they’ve got 28k new jobs in 12mnths!

    • There hasn’t been this many unemployed people in Victoria (197,000) since August 1997 (To put that in context, that was the month Princess Di died; which seems like an awful time ago).

    • Exactly. The SMH story writes itself. Sure, it may look bad that unemployment is rising, but unemployment probably won’t happen to you, in which case it’s actually a good thing, since it means prolonged cheap interest rates and “better affordability” for people who keep their jobs.

      Under this spin logic, the worse employment gets the better for investors.

      • It might be small probability but in times of high unemployment it can have disastrous consequences for the highly leveraged.

        Better get a few months savings in the bank by not going out quite so much and drinking domestic beer and cask wine.

        And even more so if you have even the remotests connection with the car industry or mining or fifo workers or mine/processing infrastructure or selling anything to them in their home markets eg Perth..

  4. Engineering is busier – even large engineering – but it is described as “patchy” by many; enviros are suddenly busy again.

    However, I’m skeptical that this is a bit of a 3-6 month surge as projects delayed H2 last year are getting implemented H1 this year. I’d expect some carryover in to H2, but not to the same degree as H1.

    In short, this is a good bust, but there is not a lot of confidence to keep it up, IMHO. SOme think that we will “return to normal”, and I like to gently chat and tell them I think such an idea is not realistic, and they should plan now for lower volumes, more competition (already pretty fierce), and a focus on good ‘ol fashioned value engineering.

    My 2c, from the ground 🙂