Perhaps it’s best to channel Ross Gittins’ steel-trap mind as you confront the twin headlines today about Qantas layoffs alongside the ABS’s surprise January unemployment figures — the rate fell to the lowest level since July 2011. As he wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:

“You’d need the steel-trap mind of an economist to say to yourself: ‘These stories I’m hearing about layoffs here and there are sad news for the individuals involved, but they don’t really prove anything. To make a balanced assessment of what’s happening in the labour market I need aggregate statistics, not anecdotes — and the last stats I saw said that, overall, employment is growing sufficiently to hold the unemployment rate steady at 5.2 per cent.'”

A lower than expected 5.1% in January, to be precise, according to unemployment figures just released.

So while we may be moved by the plight of 500 sacked workers at Qantas, or layoffs at Toyota, or a thousand-odd staff gone from ANZ, it’s best to remember, as Gittins says, just how big the economy is — “there are 11,421,300 people in the labour force, either in a job or actively seeking one. So 350 people represent 0.003 per cent of the total.”

As Glenn Dyer and Bernard Keane write in Crikey today:

“The jobs market is weak in sectors like finance, retailing and some areas of manufacturing. But it is strong in others (and sometimes it’s strong in some sub-sectors of retailing and manufacturing, too). That is constantly overlooked by the jobs alarmists who overcook the numbers or the trends in the economy.”

Every Thursday, Crikey editor Sophie Black and Crikey‘s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane will talk through the week’s events in the national capital. Visit the podcast page on our website (or via iTunes) at 4pm AEST to download or stream.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey