Regional labour market data shows Cairns sliding badly

This morning’s ABS Sept labour market data for the Queensland regions is, as always very volatile, although this month seems even more so than usual. The headline, unadjusted data shows Cairns unemployment rate jumping to 9.2% with 3,600 jobs lost in the month. To our south the original data shows Townsville’s unemployment rate almost halved to 5.9% with 5,700 jobs added!. These are clearly so volatile as to be senseless when considered on their own. Therefore we need to focus on the Conus Trend data.

Cairns Trend employment fell in Sept by 500 while the Aug decline was revised worse¬†to 600 (from -200). The Trend unemployment rate now stands at 8.4% and although this is a slight decline from Aug (8.5%) we should be mindful that the Aug figure was revised up from 8.0%. The only reason for the fall in the Trend unemployment rate was another drop in Trend Participation (now down to 59.6 which is very close to a record low for the region). If we strip out the “Participation effect” and look at the Trend Employment/Working Population measure (see the second chart below) we see that this has once again fallen sharply to 54.6, which is a record low point. Cairns now sits as the third worse region is Queensland in terms of a Trend Unemployment rate falling behind only Fitzroy (9.6%) and Wide Bay (9.5%). Despite an increase in Trend Employment of 1,400 in Cairns since the start of the year, the labour market in the region is clearly still in a very weak position.

To our south in Townsville, despite the much stronger unadjusted data, the Conus Trends show things still looking weak. The Townsville Trend Employment data shows a decline of 500, although the Aug drop of 1,600 was revised to just 1,000. With the Trend Participation Rate falling again to 60.6 (a new record low for Townsville) the Trend Unemployment Rate managed to stay stable at 7.9% (after Aug was revised sharply down from 9.0%). The Trend Employment/Working Population measure shows a decline to 56.0, from 56.4 in Aug (another record low). Since the start of the year Trend Employment in Townsville has fallen by 9,300! When taking both Cairns and Townsville together it is clear that employment in the North of the state is in a very poor position.



The gender split in the Cairns data has some highly suspect elements within. Not least of which is the unadjusted data which shows female unemployment jumped from 1,700 in Aug to 6,500 in Sept! Focus on the Conus Trend series (which, due to the small data set are still highly volatile and should therefore be treated with extreme caution) is more important than ever.

The Conus Trend series shows the male unemployment rate at 9.5% (down from 9.8% in Aug) while the female Trend remains stable at 7.3%. The decline in jobs in total appears to be solely related to female employment with males seeing a very small increase (+200) over the month.


Youth unemployment remains a serious concern in Cairns (as it is in many regional areas). The headline, unadjusted data shows the unemployment rate for the 15-24 year old segment at its highest in a year (27.9%). The Conus Trend sees an increase in the Youth unemployment rate to 23.0% (its highest in 10 months) and the 12 month moving average at 21.9& (actually a slight decline from 22.0%). The charts below demonstrate the weakness in the youth labour market and the fact that employment in the sector has virtually flat-lined for the past 12 months.



The full Conus Trend data set for all Queensland regions is available for free download below. Please feel free to use and quote from this data, but we would appreciate you acknowledging Conus when you do so. The full Cairns Male/Female Trend data is available on request.

QLD Regions Jobs data – Conus Trend Sept 2015


  1. Glen says:

    October 22nd, 2015 at 3:08 am

    Pete, very interesting numbers and your Conus trend is right on the money. You are absolutely correct in respect to Townsville in particular, whether good or bad I always dismiss the Townsville figures and look at your trend. With the high amount of defence force members and their households who are never included in the survey the numbers themselves are basically worthless and will always jump around. There are around 6000 defence members in Townsville these days so there would have to be up to 10, 000 employed persons not counted in the data, out of a total of less than 200, 000 it is quite significant. I was actually part of the survey a couple of years ago for the 8 month period and was almost not considered because I was a reservist, but in the end they kept me in the system but was advised I could never include any reserve hours in the survey, which is understandable. I raised the Townsville numbers with the lovely lady from the ABS and she advised the figures in Townsville will always fluctuate greatly and lack consistency. Good thing we have your trend.

  2. Pete Faulkner says:

    October 22nd, 2015 at 3:48 am

    Thanks for the comment. With such small data sets the regional data is always going to be problematic; which was the driver behind creating the Conus Trends in the first place.
    I’ve spoken to the ABS on the subject and they are aware that more needs to be done to provide better regional data (on a whole raft of measures); as always it comes down to resources.

  3. Qld regions have been struggling and not just the mining ones | Queensland Economy Watch says:

    October 22nd, 2015 at 8:48 am

    […] Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill’s alleged lack of success in bringing new infrastructure projects to the city may become a major issue in the mayoral election in March next year, based on a report in today’s Townsville Bulletin. The Mayor may be vulnerable on this issue, given how long it has taken so far to progress the Super Stadium, which still has not obtained the Commonwealth funding commitment it needs. She will also be vulnerable because of the relatively weak Townsville economy recently, although it appears the unemployment rate is thankfully coming down a bit. The Townsville region, like other Queensland regions, such as Wide Bay (see chart above), has struggled in recent years, and as I’ve noted before, net employment growth in Queensland is confined to the South-East, and the regions as a whole have been losing jobs. It is no surprise the mining regions are struggling (chart below), but it is not only them, as I have noted above. To give another example, Cairns is also a worry (see Pete Faulkner’s post Regional labour market data shows Cairns sliding badly). […]

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