Last week saw the release of the Dept of Employment Small Area Labour Market data for the March quarter. This series is based on ABS data as well as Centrelink and Census data and is the only reliable source of unemployment information at a Local Government Area level. However, the SALM series is based on a very different methodology to the ABS Labour Force survey data and as such cannot be compared directly to the ABS (or Conus derived) series.
Unfortunately the data is also only presented on a 4-quarters smoothed basis (i.e. the average of the previous 4 quarters) and as such is extremely lagged and slow to respond to changes in the underlying data. We have therefore been working on trying to tease out some more timely data signals from this series. We have done so by dis-aggregating the 4-quarters smoothed data to create derived quarterly numbers which we have then trended. The resulting Conus Trend SALM provides us with a far more timely indicator for labour force at a LGA level than we have previously had.
So far we have adopted this technique only for our own local LGA areas (Cassowary Coast and Cairns) as well as Townsville City Council, but aim to expand the coverage as resources allow.
The original SALM data shows the unemployment rate in CCRC falling from 7.6% to 7.1%. The Conus Trend SALM is less dramatic (largely because it started recognising the improvements earlier) and sees unemployment fall from 7.2% to 7.0%. Trend employment is up 633 over the course of the past year.
In Cairns Regional Council the original SALM has the unemployment rate falling from 7.1% to 6.7%; a similar story emerges from the Trend SALM with it down from 7.0% to 6.8%. Trend employment is up 3,680 over the year.
In Townsville the original SALM data continued to weaken with unemployment rising to 10.8% from 10.7% with employment down more than 5,000. However, as readers of this blog will be aware, we have been seeing clear improvements in the labour market in Townsville over recent months. These improvements are better reflected in the Trend SALM data where we see the unemployment rate stable at 10% but Trend employment up 1,760 over the year.