On employment data

Marcus L’estrange writes: Re. “Confusing data leaves job market (and statisticians’ quality) a mystery” (yesterday). Ah, at last. Bernard and Glenn are starting to understand the dodgy nature of the monthly ABS “Labor Force” figures but their report is incomplete and herein lies the problems with spin in economic data: sometimes the spin turns your way, some it doesn’t. The ABS uses the internationally sanctioned definition of unemployment, which is really similar to Tom Waits’ definition of being drunk: you have to be really, really out of it to qualify. Or like being on a public hospital waiting list.  You have to be on a list to get on to another list then to finally get on the actual list that gets you into a hospital for, wait for it, elective surgery. Not only must you not be in employment, but you can’t have done even one hour of paid or unpaid during the survey period. Nor can you be discouraged by the absence of available jobs either — you must have applied for something in the previous four weeks — and you must be available to start work during the week after the survey.

Hands up all those who think they could survive on one hour’s paid work every four weeks?  And all those who wouldn’t be discouraged from apply for jobs you’re not really qualified for, after years of knockbacks?

The “endorsed international standards” are bunkum, can be interpreted any way a government wants to, and have been ever since they were modified in the early 1980s.  By then it was obvious that the low unemployment years of the golden age of capitalism (1945 – 1975) had come to an end, and there were two things that could be done about it:  we could either have had a good hard look at why advanced market economies were leaving so many people without a job; or we could define the problem away. We did the latter.

Neither Labor, the Coalition or the Greens will tell you this:  If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job; if you are so hopelessly out of work that you’ve stopped looking over the past four weeks — the ABS doesn’t count you as unemployed. That’s right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news — currently around 6%.

There’s another reason why the official rate is misleading.  Say you’re an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager:  If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week — you’re not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 6% plus. Yet another figure of importance that doesn’t get much press:  those working part time but wanting full-time work.  If you have a degree in chemistry or maths and are working say 10 hours part time because it is all you can find — in other words, you are severely underemployed — the government doesn’t count you in the 6%.  Few Australians know this. When will the Australian media, including Crikey and the politicians stop covering up the depression levels of unemployment Australia has?

On Senate voting

Malcolm Mackerras writes: Re. “Sorry, Leyonhjelm, group ticket voting is an expensive, time-wasting indulgence” (yesterday). I write to dissent from every major sentiment expressed in Charles Richardson’s piece. Richardson’s greatest howler, however, is the view that the change he wants would have made no difference to the balance in the Senate between left and right senators. On the contrary his reform would have meant that the Abbott government would not have had the Senate numbers to repeal the carbon tax. As for his assertion that the present system is “an expensive, time-wasting indulgence” I can agree only that his reform would have avoided the need for a re-election in Western Australia. The result he wants would have been a perversion of the will of the people of Western Australia. By contrast the present system, at the re-election, expressed that will very accurately. Richardson’s reform proposal is just as bad as that proposed by the JSCEM but, I freely admit, not quite as bad as that wanted by Senator Nick Xenophon whose scheme is a total outrage.

On MH17

Adrian Jackson writes: Re. “Russia issued airspace warning the day before MH17 flight” (Wednesday). Let’s get it clear. There were three things that lead to the shooting down of a Malaysia commercial aeroplane over Ukraine. 1. Ukraine did not close its air space to commercial air traffic over the combat zone. 2. Malaysia Airlines did not reroute it aircraft away from the combat zone in Ukraine. 3. The missile crew fired at yet another aircraft that was flying above the combat zone noting that a dozen or so Ukrainian Defence Force aeroplanes had recently been shot down by the insurgents. The blame lies squarely with the Government of Ukraine and Malaysian Airlines not the combatants on the ground. Men in suits not men in uniform are to blame.

Peter Fray

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