Regional jobs – improvement for Cairns but worse for Townsville

Today saw the release of the ABS regional labour force data for August. Our own Conus Trend series attempts to make some sense of the original, unadjusted data.

In Cairns SA4 the original data showed a decline in the unemployment rate to 8.1% with 100 total jobs lost. We now have the Trend Unemployment Rate sitting at 8.8% (down from 9.1% in July, which was in turn revised down). Trend employment grew by 300, although it remains down 800 over the last 12 months. The growth came in Trend Full-time jobs which were up 400 while part-time fell by 100. Over the course of the year Trend full-time positions have increased by 700 while part-time have dropped by 1,400; a situation which is the reverse of the position across much of the Rest of Queensland (excl Greater Brisbane) where full-time jobs have fallen as part-time have grown. This apparent increase in full-time positions over the year (despite the Trend unemployment rate increasing by 0.4% during that time) is a definite positive when we look at the jobs market in Cairns.

Unfortunately things are not looking as bright to our south in Townsville. Here the original unemployment rate jumped to 14.5% with 7,500 jobs lost. The Conus Trend series is not as bad as these highly volatile unadjusted numbers would suggest, but nevertheless also looks weak. The Conus Trend unemployment rate in Townsville has increased to 12.8% (from 12.7% in July, which was revised higher). A total of 200 Trend jobs were lost in the month for a total decline of 9,100 over the year. If we are looking for positives in these numbers (and there are scarce few of those!) then the fact that Trend full-time positions rose by 600 in August would have to be it (although this goes only a little way to reversing the 7,100 full-time positions lost this year).

As the second chart below makes abundantly clear the employment situation in Townsville appears to be going from bad to worse with only slightly more than half of the working aged population actually in work. 1609222160922

If we consider the ever-problematic situation of Youth unemployment in Cairns we again can see some improvement. The Conus Trend Youth unemployment rate has fallen in August to 30.2%; the fourth consecutive month of declines in the rate. There is clearly a long way to go, and as yet we are not seeing increases in Youth Trend employment levels, but we might start to hope that improvements in this area can continue. It is only this age demographic which is holding Cairns total unemployment rate so high; the middle aged Trend unemployment rate is just 7.1% and the older just 4.6%.

Townsville, on the other hand, which now sits as the worst Trend unemployment rate in the state, is suffering across all age groups. The Conus Trend unemployment rate for youth is 20.8%, middle-aged 12.2% and older 6.7%.


The full Conus Trend Regional QLD Jobs data set is available for download below. Please feel free to use this data, but if you do so please acknowledge Conus.

Please note the original Conus Trend contained an error. We have now corrected this and the download below is the correct version. We apologise for any inconvenience.

Conus Trend QLD Regional Jobs – August 2016


  1. Mark Beath says:

    September 22nd, 2016 at 4:21 am

    Probably worthwhile to note again in passing that as bad as Townsville numbers really are the ABS survey does not include serving defence personnel. I’m guessing Townsville SA4 is the region where this would make the biggest difference.

  2. Pete Faulkner says:

    September 22nd, 2016 at 6:53 am

    That’s certainly worth bearing in mind but doesn’t detract from the deterioration in the Trend we’re seeing. Whilst that as an issue might be pushing the nominal level higher it will have been a consistent factor and therefore unlikely to be an explanation for the very poor data recently. Thanks for the comment Mark.

  3. NSSfT says:

    September 22nd, 2016 at 4:59 am

    It’s over and out from Townsville sadly. Notwithstanding the influence of defence to the region, private investment/activity has essentially collapsed. Without the significant government investments in pay packets every month (>10% more than the Qld. average I understand) Townsville would be wiped off the map. Irrespective, the place is in a depression.

  4. Pete Faulkner says:

    September 22nd, 2016 at 6:55 am

    Not sure that we’ll see Townsville “wiped off the map” any time soon but the indicators in a whole of raft of areas are certainly not looking encouraging. I’d agree that the region is in a recession (and maybe even a depression). Thanks for the comment.

  5. Mark Beath says:

    September 22nd, 2016 at 5:16 am

    BTW there is recently an interesting twitter exchange on economics, politics and polls. Prominent Australian expatriate economist Justin Wolfers questioned the fivethirtyeight polls plus model of Nate Silver. Silver became famous when he correctly called the 2012 USA Presidential election with his statistical analysis which was rejected then by Republicans who wanted to believe what they wanted to believe at the time. Silver is now warning the current USA presidential race is closer than many would like to contemplate.

    However, Wolfers question was related to the fivethirtyeight polls plus model. This adjusts opinion polls for factors related to the economy derived from past elections regardless of polls. The polls plus model reduces the probability of Clinton win below the poll average. This is what Wolfers questioned given the long US recovery under Obama from an inherited debacle. A response (from another prominent US academic blogger not Silver) was basically that the politics is driven by shorter term cycles and long term performance is discounted.

    What does this have to do with unemployment rates in Cairns and Townsville? Possibly more than you think based on outcomes of recent elections.

  6. Pete Faulkner says:

    September 22nd, 2016 at 6:57 am

    Thanks Mark. I’ve been watching Silver’s forecasts carefully and it’s amazing how close he currently has the race (Clinton less than a 58% chance of winning). I’ll take a look at the comments you mention. Cheers

  7. Mark Beath says:

    September 23rd, 2016 at 4:47 am

    Thanks. I really didn’t deserve that opinionated irrelevant rant to be respected.

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