ABS employment in detail: defying gravity

By Leith van Onselen

As summarised earlier, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today released its labour force report for March, which registered a solid 25,700 increase in total employment but a 0.1% increase in the headline unemployment rate (to 5.0%) because of a 0.1% rise in labour force participation.

In trend terms, the unemployment rate remained flat at 5.0%:

Again, total employment rose by a seasonally adjusted 27,500 to 12,791,500. Full-time jobs rose by 48,300, whereas part-time employment decreased by 22,600:

The participation rate rose by 0.08% to 65.66%, which is the reason why the unemployment rate rose:

Total employment continues to trend higher, with actual annual jobs growth rebounding:

The trend annual growth rate is flatlining at 2.4%, but full-time employment has rebounded (+3.0%) while part-time employment (+1.2%) is fading:

The proportion of the population in full-time work has also rebounded a little:

In March, the major eastern states easily led jobs growth over the past year in seasonally-adjusted terms:

The state seasonally-adjusted figures are notoriously volatile and subject to a big margin of error. As such, the below chart tracks state jobs growth in trend terms. Here, NSW and VIC have once again driven the jobs growth:

TAS and WA have the highest seasonally adjusted unemployment and NSW and VIC the lowest:

The below chart shows the ABS’ more reliable trend unemployment rates, which again shows NSW and VIC with the lowest unemployment and WA and TAS with the highest:

The aggregate number of hours worked surged by 13.2 million hours (0.74%) in March, with total hours worked rising 3.0% over the past year:

The below chart, which tracks the annual change in hours worked on a trend basis, paints a mixed picture, with differing growth across jurisdictions and 2.1% growth recorded nationally and trending upwards:

Average hours worked is also rebounding from all-time lows:

Workforce participation is also tracking near all-time highs in trend terms:

The next chart summarises the annual change in the key employment aggregates on a seasonally-adjusted basis, which shows a broadly improved labour market:

Finally, the ABS has switched to monthly reporting of underemployment and labour underutilisation. This shows a modest improvement in the underutilisation rate but little improvement in underemployment:

Given the strong correlation between underemployment and wages growth, this suggests that wages will remain in the gutter in spite of the strong jobs growth.

While most leading indicators are pointing to weaker jobs growth, the ABS’ official survey is showing the opposite.

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