Paid work in Australia: First they reduce it, then they lie about it

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Alan Austin crunches the numbers on ABS's yesterday's job figures and exposes the lies and spin by the Coalition and mainstream media. 

YESTERDAY'S JOBS figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) confirm the three grim realities which have become increasingly clear this year. The economy is performing poorly compared with progress under previous governments. It is being managed badly relative to the rest of the world. And the Coalition and the mainstream media are lying to us.

Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash claimed yesterday that the 'economy is demonstrating resilience and continuing to create jobs'. That is technically correct if we look only at the raw number of jobs. When we look at the actual hours of paid work the economy is generating and at job participation, the opposite is true.

Tricky figures

The headline jobless rate is unchanged from last month at 5.6% — the equal lowest level the Coalition has achieved. But that is no accolade. The range through Labor’s last 12 months in office was between 5.2% and 5.8%. The range through Labor’s entire period, including the global financial crisis (GFC), was 4.0% to 5.9%. So, there has been no great improvement in the headline rate.

But here’s the thing. Over the last three years, there has been a significant shift from full-time to part-time jobs — something the headline rate conceals.

At the time of the 2013 election, 69.8% of all jobs were full-time. Four months later, this had fallen to 69.3%. Two years later, it dropped below 69% for the first time in Australia’s history. Yesterday, the percentage was 68.1%, up very slightly from last month’s all-time low of 67.8%.

The real story

A far better measure of the work the economy is generating is hours worked per person per month. The ABS does not highlight this number, but as IA has shown, it can be readily calculated. The ABS gives us monthly hours worked (Table 19, column C) and also the number of working age people (Table 1, column DI). We simply match the two.

Yesterday’s figures show hours worked per person in October were 85.3, continuing a run of 28 consecutive months below 86 hours. The last time that happened was in 1992-94, as Australia grappled with the early ‘90s global recession. The headline jobless for most of that period was above 10%.

So the real picture is one of a deteriorating economy generating fewer hours of productive work for the workforce than has been the case for 24 years.

Job participation

Yesterday’s numbers show that job participation – the percentage of adults in the population either working or looking for work – has fallen to 64.4%. (It also adjusted last month’s participation down from 64.5% to 64.4%.) The last time Australia had two months that low was in May and June 2005, during the dismal Howard and Costello period.

Through the Labor years – including the GFC – job participation ranged between 64.8% and 65.8%.

Coalition spin

Minister Cash asserted yesterday that ‘female unemployment rate is now the lowest since July 2013.’

Again, technically correct, but that is a sneaky attempt to conceal the reality that the economy since the last change of government is now providing much less work than before, for both women and men.

Yes, the female unemployment rate is down to 5.6%. But that is an improvement only on the poor jobs performance over the three years since the 2013 election. And again, had Cash compared actual hours worked by women she might not have been so braggy.

Women now average 66.8 hours of paid work per month. This is up on last month’s 66.2, but below Labor’s streak of 17 months above 67.0 from 2007 to 2009, during the worst of the GFC.

Globally down from 6th to 16th

Australia’s unemployment rate was 5.7% in June 2013, as the whole world was recovering from the GFC. That ranked sixth among the 34 developed nations comprising the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Australia was behind only Norway, Switzerland and powerhouses Germany, Japan and South Korea.

Although the jobless rate has improved marginally to 5.6%, Australia has not participated in the steady global recovery. Australia’s OECD ranking on jobs has now tumbled to 16th, overtaken also by the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, the USA, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Mexico, Denmark and Iceland.

Mainstream media spin

The shift within ABC News and Current Affairs under its new managing director towards becoming yet another shill for the Coalition continues with yesterday jobs report, headed:

‘Unemployment steady at 5.6pc, full-time jobs rebound but trend remains weak’.

 It blithely repeated Cash’s claim that

‘... the jobs growth was driven by 41,500 extra full-time positions ...’

Missing, however, was the observation that the 41,500 full-time jobs added in October followed 74,300 lost in September. This followed 9,900 added in August, after 45,200 were lost in July.

So just this financial year, full-time jobs are down 68,100. Some “rebound”.

That the Government is failing to provide the levels of work Australians need is bad enough. That they are concealing this reality adds insult to injury. That the national broadcaster is conniving in this misreporting rubs salt into the wound.

Sadly, in Malcolm Turnbull’s Australia, these are no longer surprises.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @alantheamazing.

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