It’s largely irrelevant now; but Feb Trend data shows Cairns employment strong before COVID-19 came along

The release by the ABS of their original regional labour force data for Feb allows us to update our Conus/CBC Staff Selection Regional Employment Trend data. What it shows is a very strong labour market in the Cairns region before the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak was felt. Whilst this data will appear largely irrelevant in the face of the labour market collapse we all know is happening as we write, it does at least demonstrate that the region was in the best position it could have been to face the challenges of the coming months.

With the Trend unemployment rate in QLD falling to 5.7% in Feb it is little surprise to see improvemenst across much of the State. Greater Brisbane saw Tredn unemployment at 5.8% with annual employment growth of 2.5%. The Rest of Queensland now has a Trend unemployment rate of 5.7% and employment growth at 2.4%.

Over the year Greater Brisbane added 31,900 to Trend employment (of which only 6,900 were full-time positions) while the Rest of Queensland added 29,400 with 17,000 of those full-time.

The North certainly played its part in the stronger numbers. Cairns saw Trend employment up 11,200 for the year (at a rate of 8.8%) with 14,200 new full-time positions. Townsville too saw solid growth, albeit from a much lower base, with Trend employment up 7,400 for the year (at a rate of 7.0%). Cairns Trend unemployment fell again to 4.9% (third best region outside of Greater Brisbane) while Townsville fell to 6.9%.

Trend participation in Cairns has been particularly strong, while it has also been recovering from lows in Townsville. As a result the employment to working population measures in both regions have improved strongly in recent months.

Obviously in coming months the labour force data is unlikely to look like anything we have seen for a long time! The changes to people’s employment circumstances will have large, and differing, effects on the ABS original data. It is therefore worth repeating some comments that the ABS have included with todays data release {with my own commentary in brackets}.

“Given the variety of ways in which people work and the conditions they are employed under, the ABS uses a longstanding, comprehensive and international best practice framework¬†for determining whether someone is employed. This framework also effectively covers employment arrangements that are more common in an economic downturn. Based on this framework some of the common examples of how people could be categorised during the COVID-19 period include:

    • If a person takes any kind of paid leave while not working, they will be classified as employed.
    • If a person is away from a job, business or farm for four weeks or less without pay for any reason, and believes they still have a job to go back to, they will be considered to be employed {will see hours worked fall but not unemployed rise}.
    • A person away from a job, business or farm for one month or more will only be considered employed if they were paid for some part of the previous 4 weeks {means the unemployment numbers likely to start to rise in the April and May data}.
    • If a person believes they no longer have a job, business or farm to be absent from, they will be asked additional questions to determine whether they are unemployed or not in the labour force. That is, the person must be actively looking for work, and available to start work. Those people that do not meet this criteria will be classified as Not in the Labour Force {which would result in a fall in particiaption rates}.

It is for this reason that hours worked analysis can provide an early indication of aggregate labour market impacts from any major disruption to the economy, ahead of changes in other Labour Force indicators. {This is a measure we will be watching closely; unfortunately hours worked data is not available at the regional level}

Today also saw the release of quarterly industry employment data from the ABS. We use the original 4-quarter moving average data from the ABS to create our own Conus Industry Employment Trend series. This shows that in Cairns the largest employing sector remains Healthcare & Social Assistance which now accounts for 16.1% of total employment in the region and saw an extra 5,900 added to employment in the year to the February quarter. Other industry sectors that saw healthy growth included Construction (+2,900) and Education & Training (+2,700).

The full Conus/CBC Staff Selection Regional Employment Trend data can be downloaded below. Please feel free to use this data but kindly acknowledge Conus/CBC Staff Selection when you do so.

Conus/CBC Staff Selection Regional Employment Trend QLD – Feb 2020


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