Politics Analysis

Albo’s team sets employment records, despite job categories disappearing

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Anthony Albanese's first year as PM has been a sucess (Screenshot via YouTube/edited)

Australia’s jobs market has improved greatly over the first year of the Albanese Government, as Alan Austin reports.

IN HIS FIRST YEAR as Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese has increased the number of Australians in the paid workforce by 3.44% to an all-time high of 14 million plus a few. That gives Albo the best record of any prime minister from Malcolm Fraser onwards, when the current data series began.

That’s according to the monthly jobs figures released last Thursday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This data batch contains several hidden items worth celebrating, with credit shared, of course, by Treasurer Jim Chalmers and workforce ministers Tony Burke and Brendan O’Connor.

The jobless rate improved from 3.68% to 3.55% in May. That’s down from 3.91% when Labor took charge. Jobs added so far this year come to 220,000. The total over the full year to 31 May 2023 is an impressive 465,500.

The percentage of all workers with full-time jobs is now steadily rising, as the economy improves. For the last four months, more than 70% of all workers were in full-time jobs. The last time this happened was in 2012 when Julia Gillard was PM. Jobs relative to population are also steadily rising.

All-time high hours worked per person

This measure is arguably the strongest evidence that current economic policies are getting people into productive work.

As several IA contributors have argued, notably John Haly, the monthly ABS employment numbers tend to overstate the health of the jobs market by including those working as little as one hour a week.

Hence hours worked per person per month measures the efficacy of current economic management far more accurately. Total hours worked each month divided by the civilian population – both ABS figures – gives us hours worked per person over the whole population. This takes in the employed, unemployed and the underemployed.

This number fluctuated through the Howard years between '85 and '89. Although the Coalition and its spruikers in the mainstream media claim these were the golden years for economic management, that is poor.

This increased during the Rudd/Gillard period, hitting a record high of 90.53 in July 2008, just before the Global Financial Crisis whacked the world.

That remained the highest in Australia’s history until April, when a new peak of 91.33 was achieved.

Long-term unemployed dramatically cut

Another notable change revealed in last week’s ABS release is the reduction in the number of Australians jobless for more than a year.

This number is now below 90,000 for the first time since 2009. At 87,700 this is down more than 35% in less than a year. The current level is half the long-term jobless numbers through most of the Coalition years.

The number of weeks the jobless now spend looking for a job has also fallen to a historic low, at just 33.7 weeks. That’s down from 52.4 in May last year when the Labor Government took office.

Jobs created and jobs lost

As Australia and the world emerge from the global COVID downturn, significant changes in the jobs market are now evident.

Construction employed 1.32 million workers in February, an all-time high. That’s up 146,000 on a year ago, 315,000 more than ten years ago and 570,000 more than 20 years ago.

The retail sector has substantially recovered from the slump throughout the Coalition period. It provided 1.36 million jobs in February, another all-time high. That’s 73,000 more than a year ago, and 160,000 more than ten years ago.

The hospitality sector is also recovering nicely, with just under a million employees now, an all-time high.

Health care has seen a dramatic increase in personnel, with more than 2.1 million workers now engaged. That’s 100,000 more than a year ago, 300,000 more than two years ago and a million more than 15 years ago.

Mining now employs 291,000 workers. That’s unchanged over the last year, but 10% higher than two years ago.

Many manufacturing jobs have gone forever. For decades, this sector employed well over a million Australians. In 2003, this fell below seven figures for the first time since records have been kept and has slipped steadily since. A low point of 860,000 was reached in 2015 during the dismal Abbott/Hockey period, but the recovery since then has been marginal. The latest number, at 871,000, is virtually unchanged over the last ten years.

Fewer people are employed in farming and forestry with just over 300,000 workers now engaged, down from 336,000 two years ago. This continues a long-term decline since the 1990s when agriculture required more than 400,000 workers.

The other sector showing significant job losses is information media and telecommunications, with fewer than 200,000 workers now. That’s well down from a peak of 250,000 in 2007.

The public service has barely shifted over the last four years, although the last 12 months have seen a slight contraction.

Climbing the global rankings

Australia’s international standing on jobs is steadily rising, consistent with most other indicators improving in global rankings, as we saw here last week. Australia now ranks 12th among the 38 OECD member countries on jobless rates, up from 15th a year ago, having overtaken Israel, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

We must wait a while, of course, before declaring Albo Australia’s best job-creating PM. It has only been one year and we are arguably still in the recovery phase from the COVID recession. But so far, on track.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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