Labour Force; national data hit by lockdowns while QLD powers ahead

The Labour Force data for Sept from the ABS this morning show us the impact that lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT are having while also confirming that QLD (which has been largely exempted from the Delta pain felt elsewhere) has seen very solid improvements.

Across the nation as a whole employment fell another 138,000 in Sept (having lost 146,300 in Aug). Further steep drops in participation (down to 64.5 from 65.2 in Aug and 66.3 six months ago) meant the headline unemployment rate only lifted to 4.6%. The pace of employment growth has slowed to slowest since March at just 2.4%.

In Queensland, on the other hand, we have seen a sharp increase in employment (+30,800, more than cancelling out the losses from Aug) and an improvement in participation (up to 66.2). This sees the headline unemployment rate fall to 4.9% (its lowest level in QLD since March 2009. Employment growth is now running at 4.9% pa. Full-time positions in Queensland hit a record high in Sept adding 56,300 from August and growing at an impressive 8.8% pa.

As we have been noting for many months, the unemployment rate in isolation is no longer a very useful measure to consider when looking at labour market strength. We much prefer consideration of hours worked data. Here we see the national hours worked per capita working age population fall again in Sept to 81.87 hrs, its lowest level since January this year. In Queensland there has been a sharp move higher to 87.01 hrs, although we still remain below levels seen earlier this year.

We have previously discussed the idea of an “effective unemployment rate” which accounts for workers working zero-hours as well as shifts in participation (see here for full discussion). High zero-hours workers in both NSW and Victoria make this a relevant topic to consider again this month. Doing so shows that NSW, where the headline unemployment rate is just 4.6%, has an “effective unemployment rate” of 11.7% (down slightly from 12.1% in August). Likewise, while Victoria’s headline rate is just 4.8% the “effective rate” is up at 8.7% (up from 5.3% last month).

In Queensland, where the number of zero-hours workers remain low and participation has increased, the “effective rate” is just 4.2%; well below the national “effective rate” of 7.9%.

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