Cairns unemployment stable but Townsville sees big improvement

The regional labour force data for Feb from the ABS was released this morning and what we see (once we analyse the Conus Trend data) supports the improving story in Townsville that we have been highlighting for some time now (see previous commentary here) and, although there are some signs of weakness in Cairns there are also some brighter points here too.

The unadjusted headline data shows the unemployment rate in Cairns at 7.9% (down from 8.0% in Jan) while Townsville sees a drop to 7.7% from 9.4%. However, as ever, this data is little more than a starting point and to see any sensible picture we must instead focus on the Conus Trend data.

Here we see the Cairns Trend unemployment rate at 7.8% (unchanged from Jan, although Jan was revised up to 7.8% from 7.5%). This comes on the back of an increase in Trend employment of 700, which is the fastest growth in the area since May last year and the 2nd consecutive month of increases. The Trend Participation Rate has also nudged slightly higher and as a result we see the Trend employment to working population measure finally showing signs of slight improvement at 54.5 (albeit this is still a very low level).

In Townsville the Trend unemployment rate has fallen sharply to 7.5% after Jan was revised down from 8.8% to 8.0%. However, Trend employment has actually fallen slightly over the past 3 months (down 200 in Feb) with the Trend PR falling (to 66.7 from 67.2) being the main driver for the fall in the unemployment rate. However, as we have made clear before, the position in Townsville looks far healthier than an initial scan of the data might suggest. The Trend employment to working population figure remains strong at 61.4, despite some small falls in recent months. The second chart below makes the difference between Cairns and Townsville clear.



As far as the youth employment story in Cairns is concerned we see a fall in the headline unemployment rate to 21.5% with the Conus Trend rate also falling sharply to  20.9% (from 21.7%). In addition the Trend youth employment data shows the total for Feb up 40 people. Although this is a minute shift it is the first time we’ve seen a positive change in this measure since Dec 2013!

The full spreadsheet of Conus Trend data for all the Queensland SA4 regions is now available for download here. Please feel free to use the data but ensure that you acknowledge Conus if you do so. QLD Regions Jobs data – Conus Trend Feb 2015




  1. Gene Tunny says:

    March 20th, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    Pete, the big improvement in Townsville raises a question about the reliability of the data. There was a Townsville Bulletin story about this yesterday you may be interested in:

    I think the ABS has been misquoted in the story, however. I don’t think they’d need to survey 20% of Townsville’s population!

  2. Pete Faulkner says:

    March 21st, 2015 at 3:51 am

    Thanks for the comment and link Gene…I hadn’t seen that story. Certainly the monthly ABS regional data is so volatile as to be almost useless; which is why I’m always keen to focus on the Conus Trend data. Even here, however, when the base ABS data is banging around so wildly we have to be cautious with drawing any conclusions from one month of movements.
    Over the past few months I’ve been drawing attention to the fact that the headline data from Townsville has been much weaker than a more in-depth analysis of the numbers might suggest was actually the case. I think that what we are now starting to see with the Trend data could be this underlying strength beginning to manifest itself in the Trend Unemployment Rate…..only time will tell.

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