Once again in Sept the ABS Labour Force data provides a complex and rather confusing picture. Across the nation employment fell slightly (down 29,500) which was somewhat better than had been expected. Despite a very small decline in the participation rate this saw the headline unemployment rate nudge back up to 6.9% (from 6.8% previously). Obviously, with the JobKeeper initiative still in play during Sept these numbers are still being distorted by government support measures, and will continue to be (albeit to a diminishing degree) until the end of March next year.
In Queensland employment was, for the fourth consecutive month, up (+32,200). Positive as this is, the headline unemployment rate also lifted; to 7.7%, up 0.3%. The missing piece to this apparent puzzle was, as nearly always the case, the participation rate which moved sharply higher to 65.5 (+1 ppt) as people returned to the labour force. The fact that the labour market in Queensland is doing better than at the national level is demonstrated by the fact that employment has fallen by 2.8% nationally over the past 12 months but is down just 1.5% in the Sunshine State. Since March this year employment across Australia is down 425,100 (or 3.3%) while in Queensland the decline is ‘just’ 45,000 (or 1.8%). As we have been saying for some time, the more positive health outcomes in Queensland are translating into relatively more positive economic outcomes; although clearly the balance between opening the State to (at least) NSW in the near future and keeping the State ‘COVID-free’ is coming into more and more focus as time wears on and pressure mounts on the Government.
Hours worked per capita of the working population highlights how weak the labour market remains, even allowing for the distortion of JobKeeper, with the data down 5.4% since March across Australia. Queensland again has done somewhat better with hours worked since March down just 2.8% in comparison. Back in March the average per capita hours worked was about 1 hour more in Australia than Queensland; today that has reversed with Queensland now ahead by 1 hour.