Tonight, the Federal Treasurer releases the annual ‘fiscal statement’ (aka ‘The Budget’) and we already know that the Government is now in a period of fiscal contraction despite all the big expenditure numbers being touted in the press. I will write more about that tomorrow. But it is now 6 weeks since the Government abandoned the JobKeeper wage subsidy program and today’s ABS release of the – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 24 April 2021 – might give us some guidance as to the impact of the fiscal withdrawal in terms of job loss. The problem though is that the period in question was also a school holiday period, which confounds things somewhat. Suffice to say that the labour market is definitely not booming. It has gone backwards since the end of March but how much of that is due to the withdrawal of the wage subsidy is difficult to say at this stage. Some sectors are still enduring major job losses with Accommodation and hospitality sector 10.3 points below its March 14, 2020 employment level. Manufacturing is still 2.1 points down, Transport, postal & warehousing is down 6.8 points, and Information media & telecommunications is down 6.7 points. The sectors that have gained the most employment are Electricity, gas, water & waste services (up 3.3 points), Financial & insurance services (up 7.7 per cent), Public Administration (up 10.4 per cent) and Health care & social assistance up 4.9 per cent. Anyway, I have been using my spare time to get up to speed on all the various data trends so I can better understand what tonight’s statement is likely to do.
Last Friday (May 7, 2021), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – April 2021 – which showed that the recovery since the catastrophic labour market collapse in March and April 2020, has substantially slowed after signs in March that the revovery was accelerating. The change in payroll employment fell from 770 thousand in March 2021 to a miserly 266 thousand and unemployment edged up slightly to 6.1 per cent. The broader labour wastage captured by the BLS U6 measure fell by 0.4 points to 10.7 per cent. The US labour market is still 8,215 thousand jobs short from where it was at the end of February 2020 and the unemployment to job openings ratio also suggests significant slack remains.
The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia, March 2021 – released today (April 15, 2021), shows that the Australian labour market continues to recover – and while the recovery had stalled a bit over the latter part of 2020, the March result builds on the strong February result. Employment increased by 0.5 per cent (70,700) in the month and unemployment fell by 27,100 to 778,100 persons. As a result the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 points to 5.6 per cent, even though participation rose by 0.2 points. Overall, a good outcome. The main uncertainty now is that the recovery to this point has been dependent on government fiscal support, which ended in March 2021. Given the labour market is still quite a margin from where it was in March 2020, the idea that the government would withdraw its fiscal support is not a compelling option. We will see the first results of the fiscal withdrawal in the next month’s data and I expect things to not look as rosy as they are this month. Further, undertainty has now entered the equation as a result of the vaccination bungling by the federal government. We will see how that plays out in the coming months. Overall, the recovery is still too slow and more government support by way of large-scale job creation is needed.
Last Friday (April 2, 2021), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – March 2021 – which showed that the recovery since the catastrophic labour market collapse in March and April 2020, which had stalled in recent months, has got back on track as States open up their economies. Payroll employment growth was very strong and the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 points to 6 per cent. The broader labour wastage captured by the BLS U6 measure fell by 0.4 points to 10.7 per cent. Whether the vaccination process in train allows businesses to remain open is an unknown at present. Time will tell.
Today, we have a guest blogger in the guise of Professor Scott Baum from Griffith University who has been one of my regular research colleagues over a long period of time. Today he is writing about the uneven impact of the government’s withdrawal of its COVID economic support packages aka JobSeeker and JobKeeper. Keeping with some of his earlier blog posts here, Scott takes a spatial angle and considers what might be some of the implications when exposure to the impacts of the government’s changes are concentrated at the level of federal government electorates. Anyway, while I am tied up today it is over to Scott …
It is Wednesday and so my light blog writing day today. A few interesting things have come up today and yesterday which will promote further research. Also Week 4 of our edX MOOC – Modern Monetary Theory: Economics for the 21st Century got underway today so there is lots of new content and discussions to check out. The most important revelation in a week of shocking news from the Australian government that illustrates their incompetence was the fact that a job scheme that was meant to have created 10,000 jobs by now has only actually recorded – wait – and whisper this – 521 jobs. And the extent to which the Government is going to try to brush that up as good news and avoid obvious questions like why not just create work rather than try half-baked wage subsidy schemes that had no real chance of working is a thing to behold. Ducking and weaving but demonstrating gross incompetence. The pity is that the Labor Party opposition just keep kicking own goals and cannot be taken seriously.
The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia, February 2021 – released today (March 18, 2021), shows that the labour market has accelerated its pace of recovery from the pandemic recession. Employment increased by 0.7 per cent (88,700) in the month and unemployment fell by 69.900 to 805.2 thousand persons. As a result the unemployment rate fell by 0.5 points to 5.8 per cent, which with participation stable, is a good outcome. The main uncertainty now is that the recovery is still dependent on government fiscal support, which is due at the end of this month (March 2021). Given the labour market is still quite a margin from where it was in March 2020, the idea that the government would withdraw its fiscal support is not a compelling option. Overall, the recovery is still too slow and more government support by way of large-scale job creation is needed.
It is clear that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) management is at odds with the elected Federal Government over the current state of the economy and what needs to be done to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal government is about to significantly wind back its fiscal stimulus, which although was insufficient at the outset, did help reduce the damage that the health responses to the pandemic caused (lockdowns, etc). The Government has the view that the private sector will now rebound quickly especially as the vaccination process has begun. The RBA though is clearly not convinced and its senior officials are wont to point out (regularly) that growth will struggle for years unless the stimulus is maintained and the government promotes an environment where wages can grow more quickly. The RBA clearly blames the Government for the record low growth in wages given the penchant of the latter to impose wage freezes and wage caps on public sector workers, which spill over into poor private sector outcomes. And that is quite apart from the damage that Government industrial relations legislation has done to the capacity of unions to gain wages growth for workers. The chances that we will break out of this malaise are close to zero. The Government is anti-union and anti-wages growth. It thinks that suppressing wages growth to historically record lows and further attacking the unions, will drive the wage share down even further (as the profit share rises). And, of course, the funding of the conservative political forces largely comes from the beneficiaries of these trends. For the vast majority of Australians the situation gets worse. Our real incomes stagnate and to maintain consumption levels we have to borrow more, even though household debt is at record levels in relation to disposable income. It is not a sustainable future but the damage will get worse until there is a pushback from the population. And one of the things holding that back is the deplorable state of the Australian Labor Party in electoral terms. We can generalise all this to most nations. The neoliberal score card: Biggest F you can find.
Last Friday (February 5, 2021), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – February 2021 – which is consistent with a view that the US labour market recovery is stop-start at present and not reducing the jobs lost since March 2020 at any reasonable rate. prediction. Payroll employment growth was stronger in February. The labour force survey data showed consistent employment growth but not strong enough to really do anything about unemployment and the broader labour wastage captured by the BLS U6 measure which was constant at 11.1 per cent. Participation was steady in February, which when coming off a recession is a sign that employment growth is subdued. I remain wedded to the view that the US will have to stabilise the health situation before they will be able to sustain any reasonable economic recovery. Whether the vaccination process in train allows for that is an unknown at present. But with states like Texas seemingly in denial with respect tot the virus, I suspect bad outcomes will emerge in the month ahead. And with the Blue Democrats trying to be Republicans (denying a reasonable stimulus) that doesn’t augur well.
What simple measures might we use to see whether a system is working or not? Well that depends on the objective of the system. For me, one of the worst things that can happen in a social context is a capitalist system is involuntary unemployment because work is intrinsic to our beings. From the time we crawled out of the slime we have had to transform nature in order to survive. That reality goes to the heart of human existence and gives us purpose and builds our sense of network and cooperation and giving. I know all the arguments – this is a filthy capitalist system and why would we want people to be wage slaves – I am older now. I have been a left-winger all my life. I heard these arguments decades ago. And until those revolutionary armies that are apparently hiding out in the suburbs arms themselves and appear in the streets, I am thinking of the actual societies we live in and have to make the best of. We would spend our whole life times talking about revolution while workers around the world are being made to bear the costs of the failing neoliberal system.