The ABS release of original regional labour force data today allows us to update the Conus/CBC Staff Selection Regional Employment series. This shows us that, despite the tourism slowdown caused by the NSW, Victoria and ACT lockdowns (and the resultant lock-out for the Cairns tourism sector), Trend employment in Cairns was unchanged for the month and up 4,000 from August last year (at a rate of +3.2%). The effect on the tourism sector that the lock-out is having are very clear and very real (we are already seeing evidence of some businesses being forced to shut down) and we can therefore expect to see the fall-out in the labour market show up in coming months. The scale of that impact will depend upon the length of the lockdowns and any support provided to the sector by State or Federal Governments.
With Participation having fallen over the year (and down very sharply from pre-COVID levels) the Trend unemployment rate sits at a very healthy looking 4.6%. However, as is the case at the State and National level, the unemployment rate alone is no longer anything like a reliable guide to labour market health.
In Townsville, where Trend employment dropped by 500 this month but is up 8,500 for the year, the Trend unemployment rate is now just 3.9% (even with participation having increased over the year, albeit from a low level).
Unfortunately the data on the number working zero hours (which has proved so interesting at the national and State level …see here for some recent analysis) is not available at the regional level. Instead, the best we can do is to consider the total hours worked data (which is a quarterly data set) across various industry sectors in Cairns. What we find is evidence that some sectors are still recovering (Construction and Retail Trade are good examples) while the tourism slowdown sees the Accommodation & Food sector on a flat line with the very real possibility (given the inevitable delay when considering quarterly data) of downward moves in the Trend to come in future quarters.
The quarterly data to August also allows us to see employment across the various industry sectors. Changes over the year in Cairns are shown below. We see solid growth in the Healthcare and Public Admin sectors but some large falls in Arts & Recreation (not surprising given tourism weakness) and Retail Trade. The fact that employment has fallen in Retail Trade over the year and yet total hours worked in the sector are up might be evidence of a shift from part-time to full-time employment, or simply employees working longer hours in general, as the sector has recovered from the initial COVID shock.
The full Conus/CBC Staff Selection Regional Employment Trend & s.a. data for QLD is available for download below. Please feel free to use this data but kindly acknowledge Conus/CBC Staff Selection when you do.