Regional Labour Force data needs some serious care

{This post is an edited version of a previously published one that contained some data errors…our apologies for any confusion}

As we noted when the ABS released their April Labour Force data at National and State level (see here) they chose to temporarily cease the production of their Trend series. As such, all data quoted for April was of the seasonally adjusted series. This seasonally adjusted data showed huge drops in participation (down 2.8 ppts in QLD) which mitigated against some of the rapid rise in the unemployment rate that had been anticipated.

The reason for the ABS ceasing, at least for the time being, their Trend series are the shocks in the data following the impacts of COVID-19. As the ABS put it…”While trend estimates are generally the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market, any large changes in the labour market as a result of COVID-19 will likely make it difficult to estimate a reliable short-term indicator of the trend.”

This creates the quandry for us as to whether we should be continuing to estimate our regional Conus/CBC Staff Selection Trend data. We have decided we will continue to do so, rather than switching to the provision of a seasonally adjusted series in line with the ABS. Our reason for this decision is simply that the kind of volatility in the data which COVID-19 has created at the state and national level has always been present at the regional level by dint of the volatility caused by a small data-set. While COVID-19 will obviously add to the level of uncertainty in our Conus/CBC Staff Selection Trend estimates (and we can expect larger revisions to back-months as the effects of COVID-19 become clearer in the data), that has to some extent always been the case. It’s always been an issue with the creation of regional Trends but doesn’t detract from the fact that, when treated with the caution that they deserve, the Trend series provide us with a more timely and realistic estimation of the underlying conditions in the regional labour markets than the only other available option (a simple moving average). Please bear in mind all of the above as we consider the insights that today’s data provides us.

In the Greater Brisbane area our Trend PR fell by 2.7 ppts, to 64.5, and the March figure was also revised lower.

In the Rest of QLD the Trend PR also fell 2.7 ppts after March was revised  lower. These declines are slightly less than the seasonally adjusted drop of 2.8 pts in the ABS data.

The Conus/CBC Staff Selection Trend shows employment in Greater Brisbane dropping by 67,500 in April and the unemployment rate lifting to 7.0%. The Rest of QLD saw employment fall by a similar amount and the unemployment rate move up to 6.6%. The average here is in-line with the ABS seasonally adjusted figure of 6.8%. In both areas full-time jobs losses made up two-thirds of the declines.

At the regional level Cairns saw 6,200 fewer employed and while the PR fell 2.8 ppts (from its historically high level) Trend unemployment rate lifted to 5.7%; which is still well below the State average of 6.8%. Despite employment shrinking at 3.1% y/y for the Rest of QLD, Cairns has managed to still record a modest (1.9% y/y) growth rate even in the face of the detrioration of the past couple of months. While the Cairns labour market is clearly set for a huge challenge in coming months, we can at least see that the region was in a relatively healthy position before the downturn set in.

In Townsville Trend employment dropped by 6,700 and even with a decline in PR of 2.7 ppts the Trend unemployment rate lifted to 7.2% (after March was revised higher). While the situtuation in Townsville had certainly been improving in recent months this latest data, and the downward revisions that it has created, demonstrates that the region was clearly still quite weak. This becomes obvious when we compare the chart below with that for Cairns above.

Townsville employment growth which had been quite strong has turned negative, down 0.4% y/y, in April.

The full Conus/CBC Staff Selection Regional Employment Trend data is available for download below. Please feel free to use this data but kindly acknowledge Conus/CBC Staff Selection when you do so. Also kindly bear in mind the comments made at the start of this post.

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

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