Sep 14, 2012

Public service cuts start to bite in workforce numbers

Public service cuts are making their presence felt in employment data, while health continues to power on as out biggest employer.

Yesterday's Australian Bureau of Statistics data on industry employment for the quarter ending in August confirms some recent trends in jobs growth and illustrates the growing impact of public service cuts across the state and federal levels. The big news was mining, which recorded a loss of 4500 jobs since May on a seasonally adjusted basis -- the first fall in mining employment in three years, even if a tiny one. It lends weight to the argument that the boom has peaked, although in trend terms mining continued its growth, up 11,000 jobs in the quarter. Agriculture saw a loss of 19,000 jobs seasonally adjusted, although the sector is still bigger than in 2011. Manufacturing remained flat: slight seasonally-adjusted growth of 8000 jobs, and a trend loss of only 1000 jobs, which continues to suggest the sector isn't quite in the dire straits those calling for protection would have us believe. The same can't be said for construction though, which continues to suffer considerable job loss, with a seasonal drop this quarter of 13,000 and a trend decrease of 18,000, almost equal to last quarter. The problem in construction has been a weak residential construction sector offset by the mining boom; now the boom is softening, but without any corresponding pick-up in residential construction. Our biggest-employing sector, health care and social assistance, continues to grow steadily: it's now closing in on 12% of all workers in the country, and had an 8000 rise in the August quarter (seasonally-adjusted). But public administration saw nearly 19,000 jobs lost in the quarter, which followed nearly 38,000 jobs lost in the May quarter as public service cuts began to take their toll. In trend terms, the sector fell from 6.2% to 6.0% and looks set to fall further as job cuts in Queensland, NSW and at the Commonwealth level kick in. The other big employing sector, retail, was flat -- just 60 (yes, 60) jobs down (seasonally adjusted), and it actually grew slightly in trend terms, though compared to a year ago it has shrunk slightly. Like manufacturing, the other sector that we're eternally told is in deep trouble and needs help, things aren't as bleak as they seem.

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