The January instalment of ABS’s labour force data shows employment continuing to rebound strongly despite continued uncertainty around the pandemic. Despite recent outbreaks and lockdowns in all of the mainland states, the number of Australians in employment rose by 29,000 through the period, and is now less than 46,000 shy of January 2020 figures.
This is a startling turnaround, considering that in May 2020 there were 800,000 fewer Australians employed compared to the beginning of the pandemic. Close to 93% of jobs lost to COVID-19 have now been regained. The numbers make for a strong comparison not only with our overseas counterparts (56% of jobs in the US have been recovered, as an example), but also with our two most recent recessions.
The unemployment rate now sits at 6.4%, a little more than 1% higher than in early 2019. In contrast, during the 1981 recession unemployment took almost two years to rebound to an equivalent point; in 1990 it took almost four years. The unprecedented levels of fiscal support and discrete lockdowns has allowed the labour market to progress much faster than previous recessions.
On a state-by-state basis it is worth noting that January’s employment growth was strongest through the period in Victoria, which has now recorded four consecutive months of improvement out of the back of lockdowns through late 2020.
Early gains give way to long road to full recovery
The extraordinary measures undertaken by the Federal Government last year to keep businesses open and Australians employed have clearly worked in allowing the labour market adjustment to occur faster than usual, but the road back to “normal” pre-COVID levels of unemployment is likely to be much slower from this point.
Underemployment declined to 8.1%, its lowest level since January 2019, suggesting there has been a reduction in spare capacity in the labour market, which should help further lower the unemployment rate.
However, the phasing out of JobKeeper in March which is currently supporting about 1.1 million Australians, is expected to put some downward pressure on employment growth.
We expect the unemployment rate to level out at around its current rate through the rest o the year. A faster recovery is possible, but would be contingent on the success of the vaccine rollout and the continued good management of COVID-19, as well as a complete easing in mobility restrictions to allow for a sharper normalisation in economic activity.
Subscribe to SMSF News using the form below to receive all of my articlesDiana Mousina, Economist - Investment Strategy & Dynamic Markets
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