A closer look at what’s happened in the Cairns labour market since COVID

A lot has changed in Australia’s labour market since the COVID pandemic struck. Lockdowns, lock-outs, payroll support, increased JobSeeker payments and workers working zero hours have all had profound impacts, to the point where the headline unemployment rate (now the seasonally adjusted series since the ABS had to suspend the Trend series due to the extreme COVID-induced fluctuations) is not any longer seen as providing us with much useful information about the underlying strength of the labour market (see recent commentary on the July data for more).

In our own region employment has fallen somewhat since Jan 2020 (down 3,770), but the unemployment rate has also dropped sharply as people remove themselves from the labour market in the face of the changing market conditions. We decided to take a deeper dive into the Cairns labour market to try and get a better handle on what has happened since January 2020.

This was the labour market situation (as described by the Conus/CBC Staff Selection Trend & s.a. series) in Cairns in January 2020;

Working age pop Labour Force PR FT
emp
PT emp Unemp UR Not in labour force
204,330 144,850 70.9 96,370 40,070 8,400 5.8 59,480
Male
99,920 72,400 72.5 57,790 11,310 3,300 4.6 27,520
Female
104,410 72,450 69.4 38,580 28,760 5,100 7.1 31,960

 

By July 2021 things had changed dramatically;

Working age pop Labour Force PR FT
emp
PT emp Unemp UR Not in labour force
205,810 139,630 67.8 93,440 39,230 6,960 5.0 66,180
Male
100,470 70,710 70.4 55,570 10,940 4,200 6.0 29,760
Female
105,340 68,920 65.4 37,870 28,290 2,750 4.0 36,420

 

changes;

Working age pop Labour Force PR
ppts
FT
emp
PT emp Unemp UR
ppts
Not in labour force
+1,480 -5,220 -3.1 -2,930 -840 -1,440 -0.8 +6,700
Male
+550 -1,690 -2.1 -2,220 -370 +900 +1.4 +2,240
Female
+930 -3,530 -4.0 -710 -470 -2,350 -3.1 +4,460

 

While the Cairns headline unemployment rate has fallen to 5.0%, this has come about by way of a rise in the male unemployment rate (+1.4 ppts to 6.0%) while the female rate has fallen steeply (-3.1 ppts to 4.0%). This decline has come about not by a rise in female employment (in fact female employment is down 1,180) but instead from a large fall in the number of females defined as unemployed (down 2,350) as females removed themselves from the Labour Force (down 3,530). As a result the female Participation Rate has dropped by 4.0 ppts to 65.4.

The male Labour Force has also declined over the period (although by much less) and is down 1,690. While the number unemployed is up (+900) employment is down 2,590, with the vast bulk of those job losses coming in full-time positions (down 2,220).

The working age population in Cairns has increased by 1,480 over this period (males +550 and females +930) but the number not in the labour force has jumped by 6,700 (males +2,240 and females +4,460). This means that by July 2021 34.6% of females of working age were not in the labour force (up from 30.6% in Jan 2020). The percentage of males not in the labour force has also increased (to 29.6% from 27.5%) but at only half the pace of the female increase.

August regional labour market data from the ABS, and the Conus/CBC Staff Selection series derived from the ABS original, will be released on Thursday this week.

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