(Image: Sipa USA/Private Media)

Good data is vital in a crisis. What sort of quality are we getting from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)? The latest official unemployment figures were a big surprise, with a large fall. It slid to 6.8% — quite unexpectedly.

But a new dataset the ABS releases on weekly payrolls tells a different story. It shows the labour market weakening in August, a weakness that continued into September. The jobs index fell to 95.5, well below its pre-pandemic level of 100 on March 14.

Other data might also cause one to raise an eyebrow at the official unemployment number for August. The ranks of recipients of JobSeeker continued to swell in August, to a record 1.45 million.

Of course, statistical error is always possible. The official unemployment rate comes from a survey with a 95% confidence interval around the range 6.4% to 7.2%, meaning one time in 20 we can expect truth to be well beyond the reported number. Could that have happened this time? We await the next release to find out.

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