Growing evidence that Covid has incapacitated a huge number of workers with little policy response forthcoming

Regular readers will know I have been assessing the evolving data concerning the longer-run impacts of Covid on the labour force. As time passes and infections continue, our immediate awareness of the severity of the pandemic has dulled, largely because governments no longer publish regular data on infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths. So the day-to-day, week-to-week tracking of the impacts are lost and it is as if there is no problem left to deal with. But data from national statistical agencies and organisations such as the US Census Bureau tell a different story and I am amazed that public policy has not responded to the messages – mostly obviously that in an era where populations are ageing and the number of workers shrinking, we are overseeing a massive attrition rate of those workers who are being forced into disability status from Covid. It represents a massive policy failure and a major demonstration of social ignorance.

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Australian labour market – unemployment drops sharply – good news

Today (March 21, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for February 2024, which shows that the weakening we observed over the holiday period has reversed and was probably due to variations in flow behaviour over the break that has become evident since the pandemic. As I noted in the January analysis, the changing holiday behaviour that has become evident (many people now working zero hours in January) makes it difficult to be definitive about the February result, which is excellent. Employment growth was strong as those zero-hour workers resumed work and the net job creation easily outstripped the rising participation rate. The drop in unemployment is a boost as is the drop in underemployment. However, there is still 10.3 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market. The return to a 3.7 per cent unemployment – the level that was very stable in the period since mid-to-late 2022 makes a mockery of economists who think that interest rate hikes would always push up unemployment. And with unemployment and inflation falling, the current unemployment rate cannot be below some NAIRU, which also makes a mockery of the the RBA’s stated research and policy logic. The reality is that inflation has fallen as the supply factors abate and the interest rate hikes were totally unnecessary.

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E.P. Thompson and why class remains an important organising framework

I have been travelling for most of today so I have to keep this post short. Well shorter than usual. Edward Palmer Thompson – who died at the age of 69 in 1993, was a British writer who wrote the exceptional book – The Making of the English Working Class – which was a very long social history published in 1963, and considered essential reading for young leftists at the time. I read it in the early 1970s as part of my rites of passage into Leftist intellectual thought and while I prefer books that are less than 800 pages (-:, I found it absorbing. I was reminded of it when I recently read a UK Observer article (February 4, 2024) – What a legendary historian tells us about the contempt for today’s working class – by Kenan Malik.

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Britain’s future is being compromised by the massive increase in long-term sickness among the working age population

When I was in London recently, I noticed an increase in people in the street who were clearly not working and looked to be in severe hardship from my last visit in 2020. Of course, in the intervening period the world has endured (is enduring) a major pandemic that has permanently compromised the health status of the human population. The latest data from the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) – Labour market overview, UK: February 2024 (released February 13, 2024) – provides some hard numbers to match my anecdotal observations. Britain has become a much sicker society since 2020 and there has been a large increase in workers who are now unable to work as a result of long-term sickness – millions. Further analysis reveals that this cohort is spread across the age spectrum. A fair bit of the increase will be Covid and the austerity damage on the NHS. Massive fiscal interventions will be required to change the trajectory of Britain which not only has to deal with the global climate disaster but is now experiencing an increasingly sick workforce, where workers across the age spectrum are being prematurely retired because they are too sick to work. With Covid still spreading as it evolves into new variations and people get multiple infections, the situation will get worse. It is amazing to me that national governments are not addressing this and introducing policies that reduce the infection rates.

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Australia labour market – weakening under the brunt of poor policy, 10.7 per cent underutilisation rate

Today (February 15, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for January 2024, which confirms a weakening in the labour market. The signs of a slowdown were appearing in late 2023 and the January figures probably confirm that trend, although the changing holiday behaviour makes it difficult to be definitive. We will know more next month when the holiday period effects wash out. Employment growth was unable to even keep pace with the underlying population growth, which is why unemployment rose with participation constant. The best indicators that the labour market is weakening are the fall in the employment-to-population rate since November 2023 (down 0.5 points) and the sharp decline over the last few months in hours worked. It also appears that the slowdown is impacting teenagers disproportionately. There are now 10.7 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed and that proportion is increasing. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.

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RBA is now a rogue organisation and the Government should act to bring it back into check

Yesterday (February 6, 2024), the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) released its so-called – Statement on Monetary Policy – February 2024 – which is a quarterly statement that “sets out the RBA’s assessment of current economic and financial conditions as well as the outlook that the Reserve Bank Board considers in making its interest rate decisions”. It accompanied the latest decision by the RBA, which held the policy target rate constant at 4.25. However, the Governor told the press that they had not ruled out further rate rises despite the inflation rate falling quickly and strong indications that the economy is slowing rapidly. Just yesterday, the ABS released the latest – Retail Trade, Australia – for December 2023, which showed that volume trade is down 1.4 per cent over the last year. In the September-quarter 2022, growth in volume was 9.8 per cent (a sort of pandemic overshoot after the restrictions were eased). By the December-quarter 2023, the volume growth was minus 1 per cent, the third consecutive quarter of negative volume growth. It would be totally outrageous for the RBA to consider further hikes. But it has become a rogue organisation and its statements reveal how deviant its reasoning has become.

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Australian labour market weakens – unemployment would be 4.5 per cent if not for the sharp fall in participation

Today (January 18, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for December 2023, which tells us where things were at by year’s end. This looks likes the first real signs of a slowdown although the rather large swing in participation suggests there is some sampling variability and the incoming rotation group for December 2023 did have a lower participation rate than the outgoing group. Employment growth has been unusually strong in the previous few months but has now turned negative. Without the very sharp fall in participation, the official unemployment rate would have been 4.5 per cent rather than the official recorded rate of 3.9 per cent – a difference of 98.3 thousand workers. While we will see whether the data will be revised next month, a substantial number of workers who may have been or become unemployed have left the labour force in December as the demand-side weakened. There remains 10.4 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.

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Australian labour market – unemployment rises as participation rises despite strong employment growth

Today (December 14, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for November 2023. Employment growth remains strong with a surprise uptick in full-time employment. With participation rising by 0.2 points, the increase in the labour force outstripped the strong employment change, which meant that the unemployment rose by 0.1 points. If the participation rate had not have changed, then the official unemployment rate would be 3.5 per cent rather than the official rate published of 3.9 per cent. Underemployment also rose – there are now 10.4 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators and it is hard to characterise this as a ‘tight’ labour market.

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US labour market – no sign of a major slowdown underway

Last Friday (December 8 , 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by 199,000 which is a good sign. The unemployment rate also fell as employment growth outstripped the growth in the labour force – down to 3.7 per cent (from 3.9 per cent). The participation rate rose by 0.1 point, indicating optimism among workers. I see no sign of a major slowdown emerging. Real wages have also started rising – modestly.

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Australian labour market defying RBA rate hikes still although special factors were present in October

Today (November 16, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia – for October 2023. Employment rose by 55 thousand and unemployment rose by 27,900 on the back of a 0.2 points rise in participation – usually a sign of a healthy situation. But the special monthly factors (referendum and elections) which impacted positively on employment growth make it hard to assess where the labour market is at. I am guessing that November’s employment growth will be much lower and participation will fall again. In October, noting the special factors, employment growth was not strong enough in September to absorb the rise in the labour force as participation rose by 0.2 points. If the participation rate had not have changed, then the official unemployment rate would be 3.4 per cent rather than the official rate published of 3.7 per cent. There are now 10 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed. Australia is not near full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators.

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