Regional jobs; better still for Cairns while Townsville sinks further

The release today by the ABS of their original, unadjusted regional labour force data allows us to update our own Conus Trend series. What we see is (again) confirmation of the improving story in Cairns but, unfortunately, a reversal of the brighter picture for Townsville that we noted (and questioned!) last month. You can see here for our commentary last month.

Last week saw some really horrible jobs numbers for Queensland as a whole (see commentary here) but, as we said on ABC radio the day after (listen here), what could well happen was that the data for Cairns was actually better: And indeed it is.

On a Trend basis employment in Cairns rose 1,000 in October (after an unrevised 1,200 increase in Sept). This brings annual jobs growth in Cairns to 3,700 of which 1,400 have been full time positions (another 300 were added this month). The rate of Trend jobs growth in Cairns is now at +2.5%, which is at its fastest this year. With the ongoing increase in Trend employment we also see a small pick-up in Trend Participation (although last month was revised lower) to 60.1. Both increasing employment and increasing participation is the precise reverse of what we see at a state level and highlights the relative strength of the Cairns labour market. As a result we see the Trend unemployment rate in Cairns decline to 7.3% (its lowest in 5 years) while Sept was revised down to 7.7% (from 8.4%).

Unfortunately this much more positive news cannot be replicated to our south. The original ABS data for Townsville last month created some scepticism on our part, and this month’s numbers confirm we were right to be wary. Trend employment in October has fallen by 600 while the original 100 increase we noted last month has been revised to a 400 decline. Over the course of the past 12 months Townsville has lost 9,400 Trend jobs with 5,500 of those being in full time work. Not only is Trend employment declining but Trend participation is also falling (just like at a state level). As a result the Trend unemployment rate in Townsville for October now stands at 12.1% (this is actually a slight drop from the revised level of 12.2% in Sept but remains by far the highest in the state.

As the second chart below makes abundantly clear, when we “look through” the participation effect the data for Townsville is shockingly weak. Cairns, on the other hand, appears to have made a solid recovery from the lows (although still with plenty of room for further improvement).



When we consider the data by age groups we see that there is a marked improvement in the youth sector in Cairns; and a dramatic deterioration in Townsville. The youth (15-24 yr olds) in Cairns have picked up 400 jobs on a Trend basis in October which is the fourth consecutive month of increases. The Trend youth unemployment rate has fallen to 22.4% (its lowest this year). Young people in Townsville, on the other hand, have lost 1,300 Trend jobs this month (the sixth consecutive month of declines) and seen their Trend unemployment rate increase to 24.6%, which is now the 3rd worst in the state (behind Wide Bay and Outback). Where Townsville is really struggling in the middle aged sector (25-44 yr olds) where the Trend unemployment rate is now at 11.7% (highest in the state).


The full set of Conus Trend Regional Jobs data for QLD is available for download below. Please feel free to use this data for non-commercial use but we would appreciate you acknowledging Conus when you do so. We will be updating our Conus Trend data for NSW and Victoria in the next few days and this will also be available on our Reports page.

Conus Trend QLD Regional Jobs – Oct 2016


  1. Gene Tunny says:

    November 27th, 2016 at 2:18 am

    The Townsville figures are very worrying. I know things are bad up there but a 50% employment population ratio is shocking. Of course the regional data are volatile and subject to a high degree of sampling error so hopefully things aren’t really that bad.

    The sizeable gap between Greater Brisbane and rest of Qld employment-population ratios is very interesting. Is any of it due to differences in the age structure between Greater Brisbane and rest of Qld? I’ll have to look myself.

  2. Pete Faulkner says:

    November 27th, 2016 at 2:51 am

    Gene, that’a an interesting observation you make. It could well be due to age demographics and I can see how that might be. Rest of Queensland would probably be home to a disproportionate share of retirees (and early-retirees) who make a tree or sea change and move out of the city. Certainly the fact that “sea-change” regions such as Cairns and the Sunshine Coast do tend to have lower emp/pop ratios could be evidence of that.
    Thanks for the comment.

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