The Trend of improving employment data for the Cairns region that we have been discussing this year appears to have come to a halt. Today’s release from the ABS of unadjusted labour market data for May has the headline unemployment rate in Cairns jumping to 9.8% (from 6.8% in April) despite strong growth in the number in work (+1,100 for the month). However, as readers will be well aware, these unadjusted regional numbers are so volatile as to be almost useless; instead we must focus our analysis on the Conus Trend.
The Trend shows that employment growth in Cairns has slowed in the past few months. May saw just 200 new jobs, April 500 and March 1,000. So far this year there has been a total increase in Trend employment for 3,500, so this month’s data shows a slowing to well below the monthly average of 700. The growth in jobs has been met (not unexpectedly) by an increase in the Participation Rate and that has therefore made a decline in the unemployment rate harder to achieve. Trend PR has increased to 61.1 (up 1.8 in the past 5 months) as more people join the labour force. As a result the Trend unemployment rate has increased to 8.0% (April was revised up to 7.8% from 7.2%). In Trend terms Cairns now sits as the 4th worst Trend unemployment rate in QLD behind Wide Bay (11.3%), Logan-Beaudesert (9.9%) and Mackay (8.4%). Considering the Employment/Working Population measure (see the chart below) we see that this increase in jobs and PR has seen a steady improvement in this measure over the past few months, although it remains very weak still.
When we consider the gender breakdown in the Cairns data we see that the female Trend unemployment rate has jumped sharply to 7.7% (from 7.1% in Apr which was revised from 6.2%), again on the back of an uptick in female Trend Participation. The Trend male unemployment rate has actually fallen slightly to 8.3% (from 8.4% in Apr). As the chart below makes clear, the pattern of the Trend unemployment rate for the sexes being in opposite directions continues to play out.
The gradual improvement of the youth unemployment situation seems to continue, although the data is rather mixed. The Trend youth unemployment rate has fallen to 18.3% (from 19.4%, although previous months have been revised higher). The 12 month moving average unemployment rate has seen a slight increase to 21.4%.
To our south things also look bleak. Trend employment in Townsville fell by 800 (the fifth consecutive month of declines) and Trend jobs now stand a full 3,000 below where they were at the start of the year. However, in a mirror image of the situation in Cairns, a decline in Trend Participation in Townsville has seen the Trend unemployment rate actually coming down in recent months. In May the Trend rate stood at 7.8% (unchanged from Apr but down from 7.9% in March). Over the past 5 months the Trend PR in Townsville has fallen by 2.4 to 65.3. The Trend Employment/Working Population measure, while still higher than Cairns, has been weakening.
The full Conus Trend data set for labour force data for all the regions in Queensland is available for download below. Please feel free to use this data as you wish but if you do so please acknowledge Conus. The Conus Trend data for the gender split in Cairns is available on request.
UPDATE. Following some discussion on this post (see comments) Mark Beath at Loose Change has taken a look at the possible linkage between the level of the A$ and how that might impact the differential between the Cairns unemployment rate and that in QLD more generally. i.e. does a weaker A$ (and the associated positive effect on tourism) have a positive impact on employment in Cairns relative to the rest of the state? The answer appears to be “maybe”.