Turnbull Government lies and misleads on ABS job figures

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Michaelia Cash has trumpeted the Government's jobs growth figures in a highly deceptive way, says Alan Austin

Ministerial spin, half-truths and blatant lies just keep on coming for the Coalition — this time over the latest job figures. Alan Austin reports.

Each month now Employment Minister Michaelia Cash issues a statement on Australia’s dismal jobs situation in which she seeks to convince the gullible that

"... all our policies are designed to strengthen our economy and create more jobs."

The opposite, of course, is happening, as revealed by the data on deficits, public debt, jobs, underemployment, wages, household income, living costs, household debt, and income inequality.

She tries several sneaky tricks, as revealed when she spruiked yesterday’s job numbers from the Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Increases in line with population

When any population expands month by month – due to childbirth or migration or other causes – then several economic indicators should also rise steadily each month. These include men with jobs, women with jobs, young people with jobs and total hours worked by the population. Hence, in any well-oiled economy, every month should show a new record high in these numbers.

So when Michaelia Cash says “Labour force figures released today by the ABS show employment has increased for the tenth consecutive month, demonstrating a strengthening labour market and highlighting the Government’s strong economic plan”, that is not true.

The Minister wants us to say, “Wow! Ten months. Amazing! Thank you.” Instead, we should reply, “Why did employment actually decline severely for the two months before that? And why have there been ten monthly declines since you were elected?”

Every month should show a new record level of employment, even if the economy is just marking time.

What really demonstrates a sound economic plan is when:

  • the number of jobs are increasing relative to the population; and
  • the number of jobless people are decreasing relative to the population; and
  • full-time jobs are growing faster than part-time or casual work; and
  • total hours worked per person are rising.

In Australia, these have all fallen since the Coalition came to office, which confirms that the opposite of the Minister’s hubristic statement is true.

Shift to part-time and casual work

The Minister claims:

“Total employment rose by 27,900 in July to a record high of 12,201,400.”

So it should. Every month should post a new record, if the economy is humming along normally.

What she slides over, however, is that most new jobs since the Coalition came to office have been part-time or casual.

Of the total jobs generated by the rising population since the September 2013 election, 53.2% have been part-time and only 46.8% have been full-time. This is changing Australia’s job market significantly. Not for the better for most workers.

Cherry-picked starting points

The Minister claims that

"In the past 12 months, 239,300 new jobs have been created, three times as many than Labor’s last year in Government."

Again, highly deceptive. Why choose "in the last 12 months"? Why not "since the 2013 election"? Or "so far this calendar year"? Or "since I became minister 22 months ago"?

The answer, of course, is that different starting points yield quite different outcomes. One year ago was when the jobless number was at a particularly low ebb. So naturally, there will have been an above-average growth spurt since — if only to claw back previous disastrous losses.

And although an increase of 239,300 jobs sounds impressive, the adult population increased by 320,000, which meant there was still an rise over the last 12 months in people unemployed.

Number of people unemployed

From a peak above 950,000 in 1992, the jobless number dropped steadily, falling below 740,000 in April 1995. In 1998, in the early Howard period, it fell below 720,000 where it remained throughout the rest of Howard’s term and the entire Labor period.

The dark ages above 720,000 seemed gone forever. Within months of the 2013 election, however, the jobless had crept above 720,000 again. Shortly after the 2014 budget, it had risen above 760,000. High levels have remained since. It has been above 730,000 for six of the last nine months, including yesterday’s number for July: 730,600.

Hours worked per person per month

This is the best indicator of real paid work over time. It takes into account all variables — part-time work, full-time work and population. When the Coalition took office, it was 86.32. This fell to a dismal 83.87 in December 2014, the lowest level since February 1994. There has been a gradual recovery since, but yesterday’s level of 85.04 is below the previous two months and well below the levels through the Howard, Rudd and Gillard years.

Youth jobless

The Australians the Turnbull Government has shown least interest in assisting are young people aged 15 to 24 (ABS, 6202.0 - Labour Force, Australia, Jul 2017, Table 13, column AM). For most of the Howard years and all of the Labour period, the jobless in this age group did not go above 260,000.

Ten months after the 2013 election, this broke through 280,000. It has been above 275,000 for 11 of the last 14 months, including June and July this year. There is no sign of any return to pre-Coalition levels.

International comparisons

The Minister’s spin is further exposed when we compare Australia’s global standing now with 2013.

When the Coalition came to power, Australia’s jobless rate ranked seventh among the 35 developed countries comprising the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

By the end of 2015, after two failed Joe Hockey budgets, the ranking had slipped to 13th.

Since Senator Cash became minister it has fallen to an all-time low 16th.

So when a minister – any Coalition minister – says they are delivering jobs and growth, they are not to be believed. The sooner they lose their current jobs, the better off most Australians will be.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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