Record underemployment as Government braces for volatile week, slew of new data

by | Mar 2, 2020 | Economy & Markets

Australia now has a record number of underemployed workers, and total hours worked per person per month are also at an all-time low. Alan Austin reports on the latest jobs data ahead what many believe will be a dreadful week for the Government as a slew of economic data is about to be released and two-year bonds have just halved, hitting a record low yield of only 0.4 per cent.

Compared with the rest of the developed world, Australia is now one of the stand-out worst performers on jobs and economic growth. There is little excuse for this given the robust global economy and the strong demand for Australia’s minerals, energy and other exports.

The jobless rate in Estonia fell from 5.6% to 4.1% over the last twelve months, and in Israel from 4.2% to 3.6%. In the USA, the jobless declined to the lowest level in fifty years, as Trump’s tweets announce incessantly. Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and several other countries are also at 50-year lows.

In the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Malta, Romania, Cuba and the Philippines jobless rates have tumbled to the lowest ever, not just in the last 50 years.

In Australia, however, the rate increased over the last year from 5.05% to 5.29%, one of only eight of the 36 developed member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to go backwards.

comparative jobless rate

Comparative jobless rate

Jobless numbers

Australians now looking for work jumped to 725,900 in January, a disturbing increase of 48,000 over the January before. This is highest number in 21 months, 18,100 above the 2013 level when the Coalition took office promising to reduce unemployment substantially. The jobless rate is lower now, however, than 5.82% at the 2013 election.

260,400 jobs missing

Through the Labor years, Australia ranked between sixth and eight in the OECD on jobless rates. It now ranks 19th.

If Australia still ranked eighth – which it certainly should given export values, the record trade surpluses and healthy corporate profits – the jobless rate would be 3.40%. The difference between that and the current 5.29% is 260,400 jobs. It is fair to suggest that is the number currently out of work as a result of the Coalition’s failing domestic policies.

Rising underemployment

The the number of workers needing more hours than they can get is also on the rise. A record 1,179,200 workers now fall in this category as of this January. That’s an increase of 259,000 workers from when the Coalition took office, up from 7.57% of the workforce then to 8.59% now. This is not a record percentage, incidentally. That was 9.02% in February 2017 when Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister and Scott Morrison treasurer.

Jobless teenagers

Jobless rates amongst Australians aged 15-have hit a . The jobless number soared by 15,300 over the last twelve months to 170,900, the highest since February 2018. This up to 19.9% now, compared with just 16.4% when the Coalition took office, after promising “incentives for employers to take young people off welfare and into work.”

Jobless women

This rose to 339,300 in January, 11,800 higher than a year ago and the highest in 21 months. Labor’s highest was 321,800 even through the global financial crisis (GFC).

Retirees forced back to work

Why Australian seniors suddenly decided to go back to the office or factory instead of spending time with the grandkids or in the garden around 2017 is a mystery sociologists may one day explain. Or economists. This is what is happening.

Australians 65 and older still working reached 591,700 in December, up 34,600 on the same month a year earlier. The percentages are shown in the green chart, below.

Working seniors as percentage of population.

Long term unemployed – people jobless for more than a year

This has just blown out in January to a worrisome 187,800 Australians, up 24,300 from a year earlier. This is the highest in 21 months and heading back towards the dismal days of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

As a share of the workforce, this is up over the year from 1.22% to 1.37%. When the Coalition took office, the number was just 133,100, which was 1.09%.

Average number of weeks the jobless spend looking for a job

This also took a leap in January to 49.5 weeks – almost a year – up from 43.5 weeks a year earlier and just 38.6 when the Coalition made government in 2013.

Workers employed by the public service

Having pledged to boost the private sector and achieve a “reduction in public service headcount through natural attrition” back in 2013, the current governmen has done the opposite.

This series from the Australian Bureau of Statistics only began in 2014, but the trend since then is obvious. Public servants numbered 1,946,200 on last report in November, up from 1,442,500 when the series began. The percentages are shown in the silver graph, below.


Total hours worked in all jobs – by workers, owners and family members

Hours worked per person per month has hit a fresh all-time low. The last three measures from the ABS are 32.9 last May, 32.8 in August and 32.9 in November. These are the only times this has been below 33.0 since the series began in 1991.

Total hours worked averaged 34.0 for the last two Labor years. The average through the Abbott period fell to 33.6. Through the last two Turnbull years it slipped further to 33.3. And now below 33.0.

Percentage of all workers with full-time jobs

This is now down to 68.35%, below the level a year ago and only marginally above the all-time low of 67.67% recorded in January 2017. That was the lowest since records were first kept in 1978.

Media connivance

That sound you can’t hear is the mainstream media informing their listeners, viewers and readers about what is actually happening to the economy. Much to Australian’s misfortune.


Alan Austin

Alan Austin

Alan Austin is a freelance journalist with interests in news media, religious affairs and economic and social issues. You can follow Alan on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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