In another peculiar set of employment figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a huge surge in jobs in NSW drove unemployment down nationally in November, while Victoria has seen a big jump in joblessness.

Today’s ABS data continue the recent run of confusing numbers with a fall in unemployment to 5.8%, seasonally adjusted from 5.9%, and a national rise in employment of 71,400, composed of more than 41,000 full-time jobs and nearly 30,000 part-time jobs. There was also a big rise in participation, to 65.3%, a level not seen since 2012.

But the national figures disguise big state differences. NSW apparently saw the creation of over 50,000 jobs in November to push unemployment down 0.3 points to 5.2%. But in Victoria, unemployment rose 0.6 points to 6.2%, taking the two biggest states from relative parity on unemployment to a huge difference in a single month.

The figures made a mockery of most market economists and analysts who had been looking for a small rise in the jobless rate back to 6% and around 10,000 new jobs created. Confusingly, however, the seasonally adjusted monthly hours worked in all jobs decreased slightly in November 2015, down 12.7 million hours (0.8 per cent) to 1,645.9 million hours, the ABS reported.

But for a second month in a row, the ABS shied away from headlining the seasonally adjusted jobs growth in preference to highlighting trend employment outcomes — suggesting some continuing internal reservations about the numbers. On a trend basis (which is supposed to smooth out the month to month moves of the seasonal adjustment process), unemployment was 6% and the number of new jobs was 25,600 in November. “Over the past month, trend employment increased by 25,300 persons to 11,855,800 persons,” the ABS said, “which translates into a monthly growth rate of 0.21 per cent. This growth rate was above the monthly average over the past 20 years (0.15 per cent), and continues the trend in relatively strong employment growth that has been seen since December 2014.”

Nevertheless, the last two months’ results, even at trend, vindicate the Reserve Bank’s decision to sit on rates until the new year and the advice from Governor Glenn Stevens to the excitable galahs in the pet shop to “chill out” until new data is available in early 2016. We know there is doubt about the seasonally adjusted process in the labour market series, but the trend adjustments are supposed to iron out those swings — and that is revealing the underlying strength of the jobs market.

Peter Fray

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