Australian labour market – deteriorates in April – employment growth zero and rising hidden unemployment

I saw an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) economics commentator today headlining “The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.9%”. That implied something good had happened. In fact, not only did the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) say the rate was unchanged (rounded) but the participation also fell, which means the underlying unemployment situation deteriorated. Two days out from a federal election, the ABC should be doing better than that. His Tweet was pure misrepresentation. All this followed the ABS release of the latest labour force data today (May 19, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for April 2022. The labour market deteriorated somewhat in April as employment growth was virtually zero and the participation rate fell by 0.1 points. While the official unemployment rate was unchanged when rounding to one decimal place on 3.9 per cent, it would have been higher (4 per cent) had the participation rate remained constant. In other words, hidden unemployment rose by 19.9 thousand. There are still 1.389 million Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). The only reason the unemployment rate is so low is because the underlying population growth remains low after the border closures over the last two years. My underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 6.4 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.9 per cent. Finally, with real wages falling so sharply and employment growth virtually zero, one realises that the mainstream claim that lower real wages are good for employment is bunk!

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