In her monthly jobs media release which has become as predictable as it is deceptive, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash boasts “Twelve months of consecutive jobs growth — employment at record high.”

Of course jobs have grown each month. That is because the population increases each month and the economy automatically expands as a result. Even if the economy does not improve — and provided it does not deteriorate — then each month will show a slow and steady increase in jobs.

Number games

The minister and her colleagues deploy several wily tricks when presenting jobs data. The mainstream media are only too happy to report and amplify them.

The first is to use cherry-picked benchmarks — in this case “one year ago”. Cash says in her release “Employment has increased by 371,500 over the last year – more than four times the jobs growth in Labor’s last year in government …”

The arithmetic is correct. But the starting point is deceptive. One year ago, according to yesterday’s ABS jobs numbers, was when the jobs situation had tanked disastrously as a result of her government’s policies. One year ago, 716,600 Australians had no job at all. What has happened since is simply clawing back some of those horrific losses.

If she had selected the period “over the last two years since I became minister”, then only 260,100 jobs have been added per year. If she had chosen “over the Coalition’s four years”, then only 206,400 jobs have been added per year.

That then must be measured against adult population increases of 293,700 per year, on average, over the last four years. Not so great. That is the second sneaky trick.

Full-time versus casual

The third deception is to ignore the reality that most jobs generated under the Coalition have been part-time and casual rather than full-time and sustainable.

The September figures show full-time jobs for women fell by 20,621.

Since the 2013 election, 425,400 part-time and casual positions have been generated. In contrast, new full-time jobs number a miserable 400,100.

Just in the last four years, a significant shift has taken place in the proportion of part-timers and casuals. At the time of the 2013 election, only 30.2% of workers were in part-time jobs. That has gradually increased since the Coalition came to office. This exceeded 31% for the first time in August 2015, then breached 32% in September 2016. It peaked at 32.26% in January this year, then appeared to fall. But the latest month shows another surge to 31.67% — from 31.61% in August.

Economy weaker overall

The minister claims, “we are focussed on our plan to secure a stronger economy with more jobs, including lower taxes for small businesses, a record investment in infrastructure, reliable and affordable energy, new export agreements and an ongoing focus on ideas and innovation”.

Detailed analysis of the jobs numbers along with all other data shows this is not true. For example:

People unemployed

In September, 711,500 people were unemployed. This is the eleventh consecutive month the total has been above 710,000. The last time that happened before the Coalition was elected in 2013 was in the dismal Howard years back in 1997.

Monthly hours worked per adult

This is the best measure of the employment any economy generates, as it takes into account full-time jobs, part-time jobs and population shifts.
In September this was still languishing at 86.17. This brings to 48 the consecutive months below 86.5 out of the 48 months since the Coalition was elected.

This rarely fell below 87.0 through the Labor period, even during the devastating global financial crisis.

Jobless teenagers

Youth aged 15-19 continue to be neglected. For the second consecutive month, the number of jobless teens increased. From 140,100 in July this rose to 144,100 in August and is now up to 145,100. This makes 16 months above 145,000 since the Coalition was elected in 2013. The last time this level was breached before that election was in July 1997.

Global comparisons

The final falsehood in the minister’s release is to attack Labor — whose record is much better than the Coalition’s on jobs and on all variables reflecting the wellbeing of the majority.

In fact, when we compare the employment levels under Labor — when Shorten was minister for workplace relations — we see Australia ranked sixth in the developed world on the provision of jobs. Now, in contrast, Australia ranks 16th. (Based on comparisons with member countries of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development.)

Two economies

Most indicators of the wellbeing of the majority of Australians — jobs, wages, pensions, cost of living, household disposable income, household debt — confirm that there are now two economies in parallel. The rich are doing nicely, thank you very much, with more and more of the nation’s vast wealth and expanding total income accruing to them.

But the vast majority are progressively getting poorer.

Peter Fray

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