We’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in SE Asia so have some catching up to do. First thing on the agenda was the labour force data for March released last week. We saw the headline (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate remain stable at 5.9% despite a very sharp addition of 60,900 new jobs; the reason an increase in the Participation Rate to 64.8. The much stronger jobs number came after the Feb data was revised to a 2,800 increase (rather than a 6,400 drop). Even more positively, full time employment was up a thumping 74,500 for the month.
The rather less dramatic, and therefore preferred, Trend measure was also better with 16,500 new jobs added (Feb was revised higher to +17,700 from +11,600) although the Trend unemployment rate actually nudged higher to 5.9% (from 5.8%) on the back of those higher PR numbers. However you look at it, this is a strong set of data for the nation. Seasonally adjusted employment is now up 145,900 over the past 12 months with 67,800 of those full time positions.
Queensland also saw improvements. The headline data showed an extra 28,800 new jobs (of which 33,100 were full time) and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped sharply to 6.3% (from a revised 6.6% in Feb). Participation was also much firmer at 64.6 (up from 64.1) and this will have stopped the unemployment rate dropping even further.
The Trend series also improved with 4,400 new jobs and Feb revised from +1,600 to +4,300. March’s increase in Trend employment is the strongest since Dec 2015. As the second chart below makes clear, things are certainly improving in the Sunshine State. Further analysis of the QLD data can be found from Gene Tunny at Adept Economics here and here.
The regional labour force data which was released this morning makes some very interesting reading. We shall be spending more time analysing the data tomorrow; but having crunched the numbers and formulated the Conus Trend series a number of major points become obvious.
Regional QLD is rapidly closing the gap on Greater Brisbane
In March, Trend employment in the Rest of Queensland was up 3,800 while Greater Brisbane could manage just 700 (note that totals may not add to the ABS Trend data due to rounding). Even more significantly, the Rest of Queensland increase included 3,000 full time positions while Greater Brisbane added just 100. Over the course of the past 6 months Greater Brisbane has shed 10,300 full time positions while the Rest of Queensland has added 9,300; and almost all of these are coming from the Bush (i.e. Rest of Queensland minus SEQ). Regions that have contributed to this growth are Townsville (see commentary below) which added 8,100; Wide Bay +4,100, Mackay +3,000, Cairns +2,400 and Toowoomba +1,400.
Townsville’s recovery is well underway
There can now be little doubt that things have turned a corner in Townsville. Trend employment was up 2,200 in March, this is the 8th consecutive month of Trend increases. The Trend unemployment rate has fallen sharply to 9.3%, although it remains the second highest in the State (after Outback at 12.8%). Employment growth over the past 12 months (admittedly from a weak base) now sits at +7.6% pa and is the third best in the State.
However, in spite of this solid employment growth the number in jobs remains well below the highs seen back in 2011.
The improvements in Cairns remain on track
Last month saw some deterioration in the Cairns Trend data on the back of a weak original number. We cautioned at the time reading too much into one month’s numbers and suggested that things could well get revised later. That has indeed happened with a return to some good numbers in March. Trend employment rose just 100 (Feb was revised to +200) but the Trend unemployment for Feb was revised sharply lower to 5.7% and has edged slightly higher this month to 5.8%. One month of a small worsening tells us next to nothing. What the data shows us over the past 12 months is that Trend employment in Cairns has been increasing at an average of about 670 per month and the unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1% to 5.8%.
Of particular interest is the level of Trend youth unemployment which has now fallen below the levels seen in Greater Brisbane and sits at just 10.2%. The scale of this decline needs to be treated with a great deal of caution (high volatility within the sub-set Trend series is to be expected) but, nevertheless, it is clear that the issue of very high youth unemployment in Cairns can no longer be touted as a major concern.
The complete Conus Trend data set for regional Queensland is available for download below (free for non-commercial use). Please feel free to use the data but we would appreciate you acknowledging Conus when you do so.