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Australian labour market rebounds from Omicron (perhaps) – but it is not as good as the media is claiming

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest labour force data today (March 17, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for February 2022. Last month the labour market took a dive as workers became increasingly sick from Omicron and the relaxation of the lockdowns and restrictions. This month a rebound. Next month? Floods and a new variant – stay tuned. Employment growth was very strong this month but it won’t last. Unemployment is down to the pre-GFC levels which is good as employers continue to face a restricted labour supply. When they get around to offering higher wages given their booming profits is another question. Participation is at peak levels which is good and underemployment is falling. All these are signs of an improving situation for workers but only within this weird bubble we are in – not much external migration yet and a Covid roller coaster of sickness, new variants, not to mention the floods. The flat population growth as external borders remain largely closed (or there is a slow take-up of international travel opportunities from foreign tourists) has helped keep the unemployment rate low. But it is a temporary reprieve I think. My ‘What-if’ unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent is closer to the mark of where we are at present once things normalise (whatever that means).

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