withdrawing super unemployed
(Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

To listen to Donald Trump or Josh Frydenberg one would think that COVID-19 causes widespread permanent job losses. It doesn’t.

Gross mismanagement of the pandemic or of the economy — or both — has caused permanent job losses, or at least severe long-term hardship for workers. We know this from observing countries affected by the pandemic which have kept their economies running and job levels steady.

Global winners

Austria’s jobless rate was 8.5% last December, before the pandemic devastated Europe. It rose for a few months then recovered. It was 8.4% in September — Austria employs 23,800 more people now than last December. Belgium’s jobless rate was 5.2% last December. It rose for a few months then settled, and was 5.1% in August.

Thailand’s employed workers expanded from 37.67 million last December to 38.05 million in August. Greece now has jobs for 3.92 million workers, up from 3.86 in December. Luxembourg achieved a new all-time high jobs number of 475,370 in September.

New Zealand reports quarterly, and later than most, so we do not have September quarter figures. Jobs in the June quarter, however, were 22,000 higher than in December. The jobless rate increased from 4.0% in December to 4.2% in March, then returned to 4.0% in June. Choice.

Australia, in contrast, lost 397,000 jobs between December and September, with the rate rising sharply from 5.05% to 6.94%.

Australia is not alone in this. The USA is notably much worse. But Australia stands out because it sailed through the last global recession with barely a blip in its job numbers. The greatest job loss over any nine-month period during the global financial crisis was just 23,250 in 2009, which were all added back two months later.

Australia ranked eighth or ninth among the 36 OECD member countries through the Labor years. It is now 20th.

Jobs data from the Bureau of Statistics last Thursday helps pinpoint the areas of failure in Coalition employment policy.

Underemployment

This measures those who have jobs but need to work more hours. This clicked over a million during the Abbott/Hockey period, then 1.5 million earlier this year. It is now 1.54 million.

Jobless youth and women

Unemployed youth now number 289,700, up from 248,000 at the 2013 election. Jobless women jumped above 400,000 in May for the first time.

It has stayed there since, and is now 428,700. The highest this reached during the Labor years was 321,700.

Number of weeks the jobless spend looking for a job

Through Labor’s last year, this averaged 36.5 weeks. Over the last 12 months, this has averaged 43.5 weeks.

Workers employed by the public service

The strongest growth sector has actually been government jobs, despite Coalition promises before the 2013 election “to trim the public service”.

Government jobs remained steady at around 1.5 million from the Labor period until mid 2016. That was between 12.3% and 12.9% of the work force. It is now at an all-time high of 1.95 million, or 15.6%.

Just in the last two years since Scott Morrison has been PM and Frydenberg treasurer, public servants have increased by 309,300.

Hours worked per person, per month

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. The lowest this ever reached through the Labor period was 85.7, even during the GFC.

Since the 2013 election, it has steadily declined, falling below 79.0 in April (for the first time since records began in 1978). It recovered marginally to 80.9 in September.

The fact that total hours worked has stayed virtually constant over the last three months while the headline jobless rate has fallen confirms the economy is not generating more work. It is replacing two full-time workers with three part-timers.

Workers with fewer than ten hours

These workers get counted as employed in Australia, even with as little as one or two hours per week.

Last week’s data shows workers working fewer than 10 hours now number 747,600, which is 5.8% of all workers with jobs. If we delete these from the job numbers, the unemployment rate jumps from 6.9% to 12.5%.

Casualisation of the workforce

This has accelerated over the last four years. The percentage of workers with only part-time or casual jobs remained steady through the last four years of the Labor administration, averaging 29.6%. It breached 31% in August 2014 and 32% in May 2017. It has averaged 31.5% for the last four years.

The difference — just 1.90 % — sounds small. But that is 256,700 extra Australians without the full-time work needed to establish a career, take out a home loan and start a family.

Has your employment status been affected by the pandemic? What can the government do to get us back on track? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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