AUSTRALIA'S EMPLOYMENT situation has worsened significantly according to Thursday’s April numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Media outlets which describe it as “steady” or “flat” are spinning like a top. Those suggesting “jobs growth”, “jobs rise”, “an encouraging outcome” or an “upbeat” result are lying to you.
Yes, the headline number for the jobless was 5.7%, which seems relatively benign. But it ignores the reality that 5.7% today is equivalent to 6.3% three years ago. Or 10.8% twenty years ago. (Seasonally adjusted figures are used throughout.)
This is because there has been a significant shift among Australian employers away from full-time employees to part-timers and casuals.
To illustrate this, imagine a company employing 100 full time staff on 40 hours a week. That’s 4000 hours paid work contributing to the economy. And generating wages. Imagine then, that a restructure replaces those 100 with 200 part timers working 15 hours a week. What happens to the actual work the company is providing? Down from 4000 to 3000 hours per week. But what happens to the ABS job numbers? Doubled!
This has been happening across the economy gradually for many years. It has accelerated in recent months. It is not highlighted in the ABS data, but can be measured by tracking the ABS part-timer numbers over time.
Through the 1950s, 60s, 70s and early 80s part-timers and casuals made up less than 17.5% of the workforce. This climbed to 20% through the Hawke/Keating period when the economy was restructured, then just above 24% by the time Labor yielded to John Howard in 1996. The rise continued until 2001 when it plateaued for several years around 28%. It clicked over 29% in 2009, and fluctuated within two points of that until last September.
About then, the shift to part-timers and casuals appears to have accelerated, with new all-time highs reached in September and again in every month this year. The April number, based on ABS data released this week, is 31.35%.