Trend Unemployment rates improve but Cairns and Townsville is a “Tale of Two Cities”

Today’s ABS unadjusted regional labour force data for Jan is, as always, wildly volatile. As an example the headline unemployment rate in Mackay in Jan jumped to 10.3% (3rd highest in the state) despite being just 3.2% just 6 months ago. Clearly the Trend analysis is what we need to focus on! For the record, the headline data sees the Cairns unemployment rate drop to 8.1% (from 8.8% in Dec) while Townsville spikes higher to 9.4% (from 7.0% in Dec).

The Conus Trend series tells a more reliable, and quite different, story. In Cairns the Conus Trend Unemployment Rate is down to 7.5% (having seen Dec revised up slightly to 7.7% from 7.6%). Townsville also sees an improvement with the Trend Unemployment Rate dropping to 8.8% (although here the Dec figure was revised sharply higher to 9.2% from 8.7%). This puts Townsville in the position as 3rd highest Trend Unemployment Rate after Wide Bay (11.3%) and Logan-Beaudesert (9.4%).

However, as is so often the case when we consider labour force data, there is another story lurking in the data. The reason for the decline in the Trend Unemployment Rate in Cairns is due, once again, to a fall in the Trend Participation Rate which has now hit a new low of just 58.3. Although the Trend Employment data shows us just 200 jobs lost in Jan the wider picture is that the region has lost 5,400 Trend Employed since June last year while the Trend Unemployment Rate has remained virtually unchanged. The reason….a 3.7 drop in Trend PR. Put all of that together and we get a Trend Employed:Working Population measure (which “sees through” PR shifts) in Cairns of just 53.6; a new record low.

Compare that to Townsville where, although 600 Trend Employed were lost in Jan, the Trend Employment data shows an increase of 2,300 since June 2014, a Trend Unemployment Rate unchanged over that time and a Trend PR that has gone up by 1.4. Here the Trend Employed:Working Population measure is near 15 month highs at 61.4. The second chart below makes the comparison between this “Tale of Two Cities” very clear.

What we are seeing is an apparent improvement in the Cairns labour statistics which is hiding a worrying and dramatic deterioration. On the other hand the story in Townsville, whilst hardly strong, is being overshadowed by a rather weak looking set of data which is actually disguising some positive growth in the work force.

The full Conus Trend data series is available for download here. QLD Regions Jobs data – Conus Trend Jan 2015 If using the data please ensure you acknowledge Conus where appropriate.




  1. Unemployment much higher in North Qld, Wide Bay, Ipswich and outer Brisbane metro area | Queensland Economy Watch says:

    February 19th, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    […] My old home town of Townsville has been faring badly over the last 12 months, with the unemployment rate increasing 2.3 percentage points to 8.6% (based on Treasury’s 12 month moving average estimates). Hopefully the Townsville unemployment rate has already peaked, which some interesting analysis by Pete Faulkner suggests might have occurred (Trend Unemployment rates improve but Cairns and Townsville is a “Tale of Two Cities”). […]

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