Cue the interest rate falls, start up the dirges again, put on the downcast face — joblessness grew slightly in August, so forget all that nonsense from yesterday about a strong economy.

Well, at least, that’ll be the media coverage, complete with obligatory references to “patchwork economy”.

Australia’s employment growth does appear to have peaked at the moment, but its the resource boom states of WA and Queensland where growth has hit a wall, according to today’s employment figures from the ABS.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rose 0.1% to 5.3% off the back off a 12,600 fall in full-time employment (part-time employment was up just under 3000). In trend terms, unemployment was steady at 5.1%. Participation was unchanged at 65.6%, but total hours worked rose slightly, up 4.6 million to 1.627 billion hours, confirming the growth story that emerges from yesterday’s GDP data.

It’s the state level that tells the more interesting story. The “two-speed” economy has never been reflected in the employment figures — Victoria and to a lesser extent South Australia have grown strongly since the GFC. But the big rises in unemployment were in Queensland, where it rose 0.5% to 6.2%, its highest since September 2009 (partly because of a jump in participation) and Western Australia, where unemployment rose 0.4% to 4.4%, with no participation rise to explain it.

NSW remains anaemic at best — unemployment rose 0.1% to 5.4%, yet again raising the question of when the O’Farrell government is going to open the state for business. Victoria was steady at 5.1% and South Australia dropped 0.1% to the same level. The so-called rust-belt states have been the steady performers of the last couple of years.

We may have a multispeed economy, but the story is never as simple as it seems.

Peter Fray

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