Families with breadwinners in and out of work know already what the latest jobs data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) proves. The situation is much worse now than it was four years ago.

This is the opposite of the message spruiked by the Coalition government and the mainstream media.

The ABS released two documents in August — the standard mid-month job numbers for July and a later, more detailed folio. Both confirm it is harder to find work now, despite the sustained global economic recovery.

There are 10 main measures of the jobs provided in any developed economy. Of these, eight have deteriorated in Australia since the 2013 election. Five have collapsed quite disastrously. Two have barely moved.

To iron out statistical variations, we will use the seasonally adjusted figures, where available, averaged for the last two months. So we are comparing the average of June and July 2017 with the average of June and July 2013. (File and column numbers will be available in the discussion following this article, on request.)

1. Number of people unemployed

In June/July 2013 this averaged 689,300. It is now up to 730,100. In a well-managed economy this should be steadily reducing towards zero, although realistically that will never be achieved. If Australia got its jobless rate down to 3.0%, as in Switzerland, Japan and elsewhere, the jobless number would be close to 390,000. That should be Australia’s target.

2. Unemployment rate

Four years ago this was 5.68%. It is now 5.65%. This is one of only two measures which have not deteriorated. But this needs to be interpreted carefully. This figure counts as “employed” people working as little as one hour per month, so the next two items need to be examined simultaneously.

3. Percentage of all workers with full-time jobs

In 2013 this was 69.72%. It is now down to 68.53%. This, together with other stats, shows the economy is now providing fewer full-time jobs than Australian workers need.

4. Monthly hours worked per adult

This is the best measure of the level of employment any economy is generating, as it takes into account full-time jobs, part-time jobs and population shifts.
In June/July 2013 this was 86.07. It never fell below 85.7 through the entire Labor period, even during the global financial crisis.

Since the 2013 election, however, it has been below 85.7 for 42 of the 46 months. It has been below 85.0 twenty times, and collapsed below 84.0 once. It is now 85.46.

5. Number of people underemployed

This measures workers who have at least one part-time or casual job but need — often desperately — more hours to generate a liveable income.
Four years ago this was 911,300. It has now blown out to 1,129,100. That’s up 23.9% — by nearly a quarter. Both the total workforce and the adult population have increased by just 6.2% over that period.

6. Long-term unemployment

In 2013 workers unemployed for more than a year numbered 132,000. There are now 160,400. That’s up 21.5%, compared with the 6.2% population rise.

7. Average number of weeks the jobless spend looking for a job

Four years ago this was 37.52. It is now more than seven weeks longer at 44.94.

8. Youth total unemployed persons

In 2013 jobless 15-19 year-olds numbered 113,200. Now 134,000. That’s up 18.3%, while the youth population has increased only 1.7% in that period.

9. Youth 15-19 unemployment rate

Four years ago this was 14.63%. Now up to 17.27%. This is worse for boys than for girls. In 2013 this was 15.58% for males. It is now 18.94%.

10. Job participation rate

In 2013 this was 64.94%. Now 65.03%. This is the second number which has not worsened. But most of the small increase in people now in the workforce has been added to part-time workers or the unemployed.

So they are the ten key stats. But here’s the extraordinary thing: back in 2013 Australia and the world were emerging from the worst recession in 80 years. In the 2012-13 financial year, 13 rich, developed countries were still in recession.

Today, in contrast, the world is enjoying one of the strongest trade and corporate profit booms in memory. No developed country is now in recession.

So why such a deterioration in just four years during a period of sustained global recovery? Is the current administration handling the jobs portfolio particularly ineptly? Or did the Gillard Government — which had Bill Shorten as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations — manage things pretty well? Or both?

Is this why the Coalition is now focusing its attack on Bill Shorten’s character rather than his actual performance when in government?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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