A jump the jobless rate to its highest level in almost 13 years has undermined the government’s economic message on employment, however, analysts are suggesting that it may reflect problems at the Australian Bureau of Statistics as much as a fresh weakening in the labour force.
The Australian, by David Uren, 13 February 2015
A sharp fall in the number of full-time jobs pushed the jobless rate in January up from 6.1 per cent to 6.4 per cent.
This was not only the highest number since 2002, but also the biggest one-month move in the jobless rate in three years.
The Australian dollar fell by a full cent to US76.4c following the employment report, with increased speculation that the Reserve Bank may cut rates again next month.
Bill Shorten said the January labour force report showed there were now 100,000 more people out of work than when the Coalition government was elected in September 2013.
Tony Abbott has set a target of lifting the number of jobs by one million over a five-year period, requiring the generation of at least 200,000 jobs a year.
“Yes, these are disappointing figures,” the Prime Minister told parliament. “But 213,000 jobs were created last year.”
He said the rate of jobs growth last year was three times the rate achieved in the last year of the Labor government.
Economists had expected some fall in the number of jobs, believing the strength of the labour force survey in the last three months of last year, which appeared to show 100,000 jobs had generated, was exaggerating the real picture.
Late last year, the ABS had to suspend providing seasonally adjusted labour force figures, the most important single monthly guide to the economy’s health, after its survey started generating unbelievably volatile results.
The ABS signalled yesterday that it remained concerned about the reliability of the survey, saying it was investigating how to reduce the volatility of its results.
The ANZ’s count of job advertisements has now been rising for the past eight months, although the official ABS measure of the number of job vacancies has shown an improvement of only 2.2 per cent since May last year.
Although the size of the jump in the jobless rate may be suspect, both the Reserve Bank and Treasury are expecting the unemployment rate to rise gradually to about 6.5 per cent this year.
The ABS survey showed that South Australia, where the manufacturing industry is under acute pressure, now has the highest unemployment rate of 7.3 per cent. Unemployment is 6.6 per cent in Victoria and Tasmania and 6.5 per cent in Queensland. NSW’s jobless rate has risen to 6.3 per cent, while Western Australia still has the lowest state unemployment rate of 5.6 per cent.
Small-business owner Rose Marie Stirling says she’s working harder than she ever has since opening her first jewellery, clothing and homewares store more than 25 years ago, because she can’t afford to take on new staff.
Her shop, Origen Imports, has three outlets in Melbourne, selling ethically produced goods including many made in Australia.
Ms Stirling said high casual wages had forced her to cut back on staff and work longer hours. “Rent, marketing and the cost of goods are all on par, but wages stick out like a sore thumb,” she said. “I just can’t take (staff) on.”