Employment Data Disappoints

The ABS data on employment to February 2016 revealed a nasty surprise with trend unemployment restated higher, and seasonally adjusted also up. The question of course must be, given the various tweaks done by the ABS are these numbers accurate? The trend unemployment rate in Australia was 5.8 per cent. The trend participation rate was unchanged at 64.6 per cent.

Full time jobs were up a little by 27,100, but part time jobs fell 33,500; hence a net drop. Across the states, Victoria added 10,600 jobs, but Western Australia and Queensland jobs fell by 5,500 and 11,500, respectively.

New South Wales has the lowest rate at 5.2 per cent whereas Queensland had the highest rate at 6.7 per cent. Weirdly, in Western Australia the rate fell 0.4 per cent but this was to a fall in the state participation rate.

“Over the past year, we have continued to see a relatively steady trend unemployment rate between 5.7 per cent and 5.8 per cent,” said the Acting General Manager of ABS’ Macroeconomic Statistics Division, Jacqui Jones. It should be noted that January 2017 trend unemployment rate was revised up from 5.7 per cent to 5.8 per cent, as part of the standard monthly revisions.

The quarterly trend underemployment rate remained at 8.6 per cent. “The underemployment rate is still at a historically high level for Australia, but has been relatively unchanged over the past two years,” said Ms Jones.

Trend employment increased by 11,600 persons to 12,005,000 persons in February 2017, reflecting an increase in both full-time (4,600) and part-time (6,900) employment. This was the fifth straight month of increasing full-time employment, after eight consecutive decreases earlier in 2016.

Total employment growth over the year was 0.8 per cent, which was less than half the average growth rate over the past 20 years (1.8 per cent).

The trend monthly hours worked increased by 1.2 million hours (0.1 per cent), with increases in total hours worked by both full-time workers and part-time workers.

The trend participation rate was unchanged at 64.6 per cent.

Trend series smooth the more volatile seasonally adjusted estimates and provide the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market.

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed decreased by 6,400 in February 2017. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 5.9 per cent, and the seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate was unchanged at 64.6 per cent.

Does Western Australia have the highest unemployment in the country?

From The Conversation Fact Check.

In the lead-up to the March 11 state election, Western Australian Labor leader Mark McGowan said the state has the highest unemployment rate in Australia. Is that correct?

Checking the source

When asked for sources to support his statement, a spokeswoman for McGowan said by email:

The first source is the Australian Bureau of Statistics stats for January (most recent) – below is the table on their summary page showing WA as the highest on a seasonally adjusted basis. In addition we had The West [Australian] citing the same stats here.

Let’s take a closer look at what those numbers really mean.

Who is counted in the unemployment rate?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) considers a person to be unemployed if they were aged 15 years and over and were not employed during the labour force survey reference week, and:

  • had actively looked for full-time or part-time work at any time in the four weeks up to the end of the reference week and were available for work in the reference week; or
  • were waiting to start a new job within four weeks from the end of the reference week and could have started in the reference week if the job had been available then.

The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed persons expressed as a percentage of the labour force. This is a reasonable indicator of the overall health of the labour market and economy.

The ABS collects labour force statistics on a monthly basis, but adjustments are made to these estimates to take into account seasonality and previous trends.

Is Western Australia’s unemployment rate the highest in the country?

The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force monthly figures show that, when using the seasonally adjusted metrics, the unemployment rate is the highest for Western Australia at 6.5%. This is closely followed by South Australia at 6.4%. These figures support the claim that unemployment is the highest for Western Australia.

However, when using trend estimates, the unemployment rate is marginally higher in South Australia: 6.7% compared to 6.6%.

Trend figures are typically more reliable than seasonally adjusted figures. And – as with all labour market statistics produced by the ABS – there is a degree of statistical error in such estimates because the figures are based on survey data.

Overall, there’s very little difference between first and second place in the unemployment ranks, with only 0.1 (rounded) of a percentage point difference between the two states using either metric.

The unemployment rate for Western Australia is higher than Tasmania’s unemployment rate, as McGowan said.


The Conversation/ABS – Labour force, January 2017, CC BY-ND

Recent unemployment trends

Unemployment rates typically follow economic cycles. When the economy is doing well, unemployment is low. When the economy is flagging, unemployment will begin to rise.

Unemployment rates and other labour market indicators such as labour force participation and employment rates will also be affected by the population composition of an area and any changes in this composition.

Changes in the unemployment rate across Australia’s states and territories over the last 15-plus years demonstrate that these largely follow the economic cycle (Figure 2). Over the course of the mining boom, unemployment rates decreased, falling to a low of 2.7% in Western Australia and 4.2% nationally.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, unemployment rates begin to rise again after a short reprieve in 2009 and 2010. Since this point, unemployment rates for all states and territories have been on an upward trajectory.

Comparing 2012 with the most recent figures, the unemployment rate in Western Australia has risen most sharply across all states and territories – from the lowest rate alongside ACT in 2012 to the current highest rate alongside South Australia.

Over the same period, the unemployment rate in NSW has fallen, while in Tasmania and Victoria the rate initially climbed before returning to around the same level.

Figure 2: Unemployment rate, Jan 2000 – Jan 2017, trend estimates. ABS Labour Force Statistics, Jan 2017, Cat No.6202.0

It is less clear to what degree the state government in Western Australia has helped “create” the current labour market conditions being experienced in that state. (McGowan’s full quote was: “It is true the Liberals and Nationals have wrecked the state’s finances, and have created the highest unemployment in the country in Western Australia, higher than Tasmania, higher than South Australia…”, but checking the claim about the state’s finances is a separate and bigger question beyond the scope of this FactCheck, which has focused only on employment.)

As I explained in this previous FactCheck, a government’s influence over the labour market is constrained by what is happening in the wider global economy. Taking credit for jobs growth, or laying blame when the unemployment rate goes up, is valid only to a certain degree.

Verdict

McGowan’s statement that “the highest unemployment in the country [is] in Western Australia, higher than Tasmania, higher than South Australia” is correct when based on the most recent seasonally adjusted figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Trend estimates are typically a better data source to use and show that South Australia is marginally higher than Western Australia. However, there is very little difference.

It is less clear to what degree the current state government helped “create” this situation. Western Australia’s unemployment rate has been increasing since the global financial crisis. A similar pattern is seen across most Australian states and territories.

Since 2012, WA’s unemployment rate has risen at a faster pace than other states and territories, from the lowest in 2012 alongside ACT to the highest now alongside South Australia.

Changes in the population composition of the state along with the economic cycle are likely to be driving these trends. – Rebecca Cassells


Review

This is a sound FactCheck. It notes that the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides more than one measure of the unemployment rate. While Western Australia has the highest state unemployment rate in January 2017 on a seasonally adjusted basis, South Australia has a higher trend estimate. It is less clear, however, that the trend estimate is considered more reliable than the seasonally adjusted estimate, particularly for the most recent month of reported figures.

I agree with the caveat that it is less clear that the current state government helped “create” this situation. The potential for state governments to influence the overall state of the economy in the short term is very much constrained.

I would stress even more that the unemployment measures provided each month by the ABS are only estimates, based on surveyed samples of individuals, not the whole population. State unemployment rates in particular are quite volatile month to month, with changes up and down of 0.3-0.4 percentage points quite common. Differences in unemployment rates between states of 0.1 percentage points in any specific month are not particularly informative. – Michael Coelli

U.S., European Economies and the Great Recession

From The St. Louis Fed Blog.

As the U.S. economy has gotten stronger, labor markets across the country have improved substantially, albeit slowly, from the shocks they suffered during the Great Recession. Here, we highlight the unemployment rate dynamics in the U.S. and across Europe during and after the Great Recession and global financial crisis.

As the figure below shows, the U.S. unemployment rate increased rapidly in 2008 and 2009.

Unemployment Rates

The U.S. unemployment rate rose from 5 percent in January 2008 to its peak of 10 percent in October 2009, with the year-over-year changes being at least 3 percentage points for 10 consecutive months. Since then, however, the unemployment rate has declined at a mostly consistent average year-over-year pace of 0.6 percentage points, reaching 4.7 percent in December 2016.

The experiences of the United Kingdom and Germany were somewhat similar, with a quick uptick and a prolonged decline in the unemployment rate. It is important to note that Germany’s unemployment rate had already been declining from a prior peak in the early 2000s, and the U.K.’s hovered around 8 percent for about four years before it started declining.

But the experience for countries in Europe’s periphery, like Spain and Italy, was quite different. Spain and Italy both had a second prolonged rise in the unemployment rate well after the financial crisis, as their economies struggled to recover. This is highlighted in the figure below, where the real GDP growth in both of these countries quickly slowed and dipped back into negative territory for a second time in 2011, and this time for a much longer period.

Real GDP Growth

The final figure below shows how Italy’s economy has struggled to grow back to its pre-recession level, explaining why its unemployment rate has remained elevated for several years.

real gdp indexed

On the other hand, Spain’s economy has just recently reached its pre-recession level, and it has grown at an average pace of 3.2 percent over the past two years. Spain’s recent growth has had a positive impact on its unemployment rate, which declined at an average year-over-year pace of 2.4 percentage points in 2015 and 2016.

Finally, the U.S., the U.K. and the German economies have grown and surpassed their pre-recession levels, pointing to why their unemployment rates have declined considerably

The Chill Wind of Underemployment

Whilst the headline ABS data on unemployment may have read ok, there is a critical issue which is having a draining effect on productivity, growth, household incomes and confidence. This is the spectre of underemployment.

The trend data tells the story. There are more than one million people who, though they have some work, want more. This equates to around nine percent of the working population. Some may have just a few hours work each week, yet are counted as employed.

This has a drag effect on wage growth (which is for many at zero currently) and this flows into lower household incomes, despite rising debt and other household costs.

The mirror image is those in full time work but who are working for longer, and out of core hours thanks to the digital transformation in hand. For many of these people, work-life balance is also shot!

Full-time employment increased for fourth straight month

Monthly trend full-time employment increased by 6,500 in Australia in January 2017, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today. This was the fourth consecutive month of increasing full-time employment, after eight consecutive decreases earlier in 2016.

The trend unemployment rate was 5.7 per cent for the ninth consecutive month. The trend participation rate was unchanged at 64.6 per cent.

 

Total trend employment increased by 11,700 persons to 11,984,300 persons in January 2017, reflecting an increase in both full-time (6,500) and part-time (5,100) employment. Total employment growth over the year was 0.8 per cent, which was less than half the average growth rate over the past 20 years (1.8%).

“We are still seeing strong growth in part-time employment in January 2017, and in recent months, increasing growth in full-time employment. There are now around 129,800 more people working part-time than there were a year ago, and around 40,100 fewer people working full-time,” said the General Manager of ABS’ Macroeconomic Statistics Division, Bruce Hockman.

The trend monthly hours worked increased by 3.6 million hours (0.2 per cent), with increases in total hours worked by both full-time workers and part-time workers.

Trend series smooth the more volatile seasonally adjusted estimates and provide the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market.

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed increased by 13,500 in January 2017. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased by 0.1 percentage points to 5.7 per cent, and the seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate decreased by 0.1 percentage points to 64.6 per cent.

December Trend Employment Data Steady

Monthly trend full-time employment increased by 7,000 in Australia in December 2016, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today. Whilst employment growth remains sluggish, this was the third consecutive month of increasing full-time employment.

But the rotation to part-time work continues, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 5.8% and the seasonally adjusted participation rate rose to 64.7%.

Total trend employment increased by 8,200 persons to 11,966,800 persons in December 2016, reflecting an increase in both full-time (7,000) and part-time (1,100) employment. However, year-on-year employment growth was 0.7 per cent, which was less than half the average growth, of 1.8 per cent, from the past 20 years.

“Over the past year we have seen a shift towards part-time employment, particularly in the first half of 2016. There are now around 120,900 more people working part-time than there were a year ago, and around 35,300 fewer people working full-time. Since December 2015, the share of part-time employment increased from 31.1 per cent to 31.9 per cent,” said the General Manager of the ABS’ Macroeconomic Statistics Division, Bruce Hockman.

The trend unemployment rate was 5.7 per cent for the ninth consecutive month.

The trend participation rate was unchanged at 64.6 per cent.

The trend monthly hours worked increased by 2.3 million hours (0.1 per cent), with increases in total hours worked by both full-time workers and part-time workers.

Trend series smooth the more volatile seasonally adjusted estimates and provide the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market.

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed increased by 13,500 in December 2016. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 5.8 per cent, and the seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 64.7 per cent.

US Employment Data Strengthens Case For More Rate Rises

The latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics, released overnight shows US employment momentum is supportive of rate rises this year. It is ironic that as the US presidency passes in a couple of week, the economy there is looking pretty strong! Over the past 3 months, job gains have averaged 165,000 per month. However the news was not sufficient to lift the Dow Index through 20,000.

Household Survey Data

The unemployment rate, at 4.7 percent, and the number of unemployed persons, at 7.5 million, changed little in December. However, both measures edged down in the fourth quarter, after showing little net change earlier in the year.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (4.4 percent), adult women (4.3 percent), teenagers (14.7 percent), Whites (4.3 percent), Blacks (7.8 percent), Asians (2.6 percent), and Hispanics (5.9 percent) showed little change in December.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 1.8 million in December and accounted for 24.2 percent of the unemployed. In 2016, the number of long-term unemployed declined by 263,000.

The labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, changed little in December and was unchanged over the year. In December, the employment-population ratio was 59.7 percent for the third consecutive month; this measure showed little change, on net, in 2016.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (also referred to as involuntary part-time workers), at 5.6 million, was essentially unchanged in December but was down by 459,000 over the year. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

In December, 1.7 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

Among the marginally attached, there were 426,000 discouraged workers in December, down by 237,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available to them. The remaining 1.3 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in December had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.

Establishment Survey Data

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 156,000 in December, with an increase in health care and social assistance. Job growth totaled 2.2 million in 2016, less than the increase of 2.7 million in 2015.

Employment in health care rose by 43,000 in December, with most of the increase occurring in ambulatory health care services (+30,000) and hospitals (+11,000). Health care added an average of 35,000 jobs per month in 2016, roughly in line with the average monthly gain of 39,000 in 2015.

Social assistance added 20,000 jobs in December, reflecting job growth in individual and family services (+21,000). In 2016, social assistance added 92,000 jobs, down from an increase of 162,000 in 2015.

Employment in food services and drinking places continued to trend up in December (+30,000). This industry added 247,000 jobs in 2016, fewer than the 359,000 jobs gained in 2015.

Employment also continued to trend up in transportation and warehousing in December (+15,000). Within the industry, employment expanded by 12,000 in couriers and messengers. In 2016, transportation and warehousing added 62,000 jobs, down from a gain of 110,000 jobs in 2015.

Employment in financial activities continued on an upward trend in December (+13,000). This is in line with the average monthly gains for the industry over the past 2 years.

In December, employment edged up in manufacturing (+17,000), with a gain of 15,000 in the durable goods component. However, since reaching a recent peak in January, manufacturing employment has declined by 63,000.

Employment in professional and business services was little changed in December (+15,000), following an increase of 65,000 in November. The industry added 522,000 jobs in 2016.

Employment in other major industries, including mining, construction, wholesale trade, retail trade, information, and government, changed little in December.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.3 hours in December. In manufacturing, the workweek edged up by 0.1 hour to 40.7 hours, and overtime edged up by 0.1 hour to 3.3 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls remained at 33.6 hours.

In December, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 10 cents to $26.00, after edging down by 2 cents in November. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.9 percent. In December, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 7 cents to $21.80.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for October was revised down from +142,000 to +135,000, and the change for November was revised up from +178,000 to +204,000. With these revisions, employment gains in October and November were 19,000 higher than previously reported. Over the past 3 months, job gains have averaged 165,000 per month.

Trend Unemployment Steady In November

Monthly trend full-time employment was largely unchanged in Australia in November 2016, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today.

Total trend employment increased by 3,100 persons to 11,949,300 persons in November 2016, reflecting an increase in part-time employment of 3,200 persons and a small decrease of 100 persons working full-time.

“Over the past year we have seen a shift towards part-time employment, particularly in the first half of 2016. There are now around 138,300 more people working part-time than there were a year ago, and around 51,000 fewer people working full-time,” said the General Manager of ABS’ Macroeconomic Statistics Division, Bruce Hockman.

The trend unemployment rate remained steady at 5.6 per cent for the second consecutive month, having fallen over the past two years from 6.2 per cent in November 2014.

The trend participation rate was unchanged at 64.5 per cent.

The trend monthly hours worked increased by 0.8 million hours (0.1 per cent), with decreases in total hours worked by full-time workers and an increase in hours worked by part-time workers.

The quarterly trend underemployment rate remained at 8.5 per cent for a third successive quarter. “The underemployment rate is still at a historically high level for Australia, but has been relatively unchanged over the past two years,” said Mr Hockman.

Trend series smooth the more volatile seasonally adjusted estimates and provide the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market.

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed increased by 39,100 in November 2016. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 5.7 per cent, and the seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 64.6 per cent.

Participation improved this time.

The state level data shows that unemployment is highest in SA, WA and TAS, and lowest in NT and ACT.

US Employment Stronger

Latest US data shows the unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage point to 4.6 percent in November, and nonfarm payroll employment increased by 178,000. Further support for a FED rate rise.

work-pic

Job growth continued in professional and business services and in health care. Thus far this year, nonfarm job growth has averaged 180,000 per month, compared with an average gain of 229,000 per month in 2015.

Incorporating revisions for September and October, which reduced nonfarm payroll employment by 2,000 on net, monthly job gains have averaged 176,000 over the past 3 months.

Employment in professional and business services increased by 63,000 in November and has expanded by 571,000 over the year. Within the industry, accounting and bookkeeping services added 18,000 jobs over the month. Employment continued to trend up in administrative and support services (+36,000), computer systems design and related services (+5,000), and management and technical consulting services (+4,000).

Health care employment rose by 28,000 in November, with a gain of 22,000 in ambulatory health care services. Health care has added 407,000 jobs over the year.

Employment in construction continued on its recent upward trend in November (+19,000), led by a gain in residential specialty trade contractors (+15,000). Over the past 3 months, construction has added 59,000 jobs, largely in residential construction.

Employment in other major industries–mining, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government–changed little over the month.

Average hourly earnings of all employees on private nonfarm payrolls decreased by 3 cents in November to $25.89, following an 11-cent increase in October. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.5 percent. From October 2015 to October 2016, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased by 1.6 percent (on a seasonally adjusted basis).

Turning to measures from the survey of households, the unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage point to 4.6 percent in November. The number of unemployed people fell by 387,000 over the month to 7.4 million. The decrease was largely among adult men. From August 2015 through October 2016, both the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed people had shown little movement on net.

In November, the number of people searching for work for 27 weeks or more was little changed at 1.9 million. These long-term unemployed accounted for 24.8 percent of the total unemployed.

The labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, was about unchanged in November, and the employment-population ratio held at 59.7 percent. Both measures have shown little movement in recent months.

In November, there were 5.7 million people working part time for economic reasons (also referred to as involuntary part-time workers). This measure was little changed over the month but was down by 416,000 from a year earlier.

Among those neither working nor looking for work in November, 1.9 million were considered marginally attached to the labor force, up from 1.7 million a year earlier. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached who believed that no jobs were available for them, numbered 591,000 in November, essentially unchanged from a year earlier. (Marginally attached to the labor force refers to people who had not looked for work in the 4 weeks prior to the survey but wanted a job, were available for work, and had looked for a job within the last 12 months.)

In summary, the unemployment rate declined to 4.6 percent in November, and nonfarm payroll employment increased by 178,000.

Employment Rate Stable, But…

The data from the ABS today shows an unchanged headline unemployment rate of 5.6%. However, trend employment decreased 1,000 to 11,946,600 and unemployment decreased 4,100 to 708,600. The participation rate decreased 0.1 pts to 64.5%. The monthly hours worked in all jobs increased 3.2 million hours to 1668.0 million hours.

We see more choosing to sit out of the market all together, and continued under utilisation. So while the headline is OK, the employment market dynamics remain a concern.

employment-oct-2016Note that last month the ABS observed that the incoming rotation group was considerably different to the rest of the Queensland sample and its influence was reduced as part of the estimation process.

The ABS has further reviewed the treatment of September’s incoming rotation group in Queensland and confirmed that the characteristics observed in September are relatively consistent with those observed in October, suggesting that last month’s data were representative of the new group. Its influence has therefore been restored, resulting in revisions to September estimates for Queensland and (to a lesser extent) Australia.