Last week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data – Retail Trade, Australia, Preliminary , July 2020 – which showed that retail turnover in July 2020 had risen by 3.3 per cent, the second month of improvement since it fell off a cliff in the two months from March. The exception was for Victoria, which is now in Stage 4 lockdown, which caused retail sales to fall by 2 per cent. Today, the ABS released the latest data for – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 8 August 2020 – which gives us the most up-to-date picture of how the labour market is coping with the on-going restrictions and the reimposed of harsh Stage 4 restrictions in Victoria. Unsurprisingly, payroll employment fell in the fortnight ending August 8, 2020 in Victoria by 1.6 per cent. But what was also surprising was that employment fell in every other state or territory bar Tasmania and ACT. The Victorian case is about lockdown. The other declines are about failed macroeconomic policy, which goes to the performance of the federal government. Regular readers will know that I have routinely analysed this dataset ever since it first became available in March this year. It uniqueness is that it provides the most recent data upon which an assessment of where the labour market is heading. The data shows that after a partial recovery from the downturn, payroll employment is declining again. The fact that the first recovery period failed to regain the jobs lost was an indicator that the policy intervention was insufficient. The second-wave job losses tell us clearly that that more needs to be done by the Federal government. I am not holding my breath.
The Australian economy continued to recover somewhat as the government eased the strict lockdown on businesses. However, the pace of improvement moderated significantly. The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia, July 2020 – released today (August 13, 2020) shows that employment rose by 0.9 per cent, well down on the rate of improvement last month. The participation rate also rose as job opportunities increased, and the labour force change outstripped the employment increase, which meant that unemployment rose by a further 15,700 thousand. More than a million Australian workers are now unemployed, which does not include the 235 thousand that have dropped out of the labour force since March 2020. That means the official unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent continues to underestimate the actual impact given that the labour force is still 235.2 thousand lower than it was in March 2020. Adding those ‘hidden unemployed’ workers back to the underutilisation rate suggests that 21.3 per cent of the available labour supply is not working in one way or another (unemployment, hidden unemployment, and underemployment). Any government that oversees that sort of disaster has failed in their basic responsibilities to society. It must increase its fiscal stimulus and target it towards large-scale job creation. The problem now is that with the Stage 4 lockdowns in Victoria now in place as it deals with the second virus wave, it is almost certain that the August figures will reveal a deterioration. My overall assessment is: (a) The current situation can best still be described as catastrophic; (b) The Australian labour market needs massive fiscal policy intervention targetted at direct job creation; (c) The prior need for a fiscal stimulus of around 2 per cent has changed to a fiscal stimulus requirement of several times that; (d) There is clear room for some serious fiscal policy expansion at present and the Federal government’s attempts to date have been seriously under-whelming; and (e) Any government that oversees that sort of disaster has failed in their basic responsibilities to society.
I am back into my Wednesday pattern after experimenting or the last 10 weeks with the MMTed Q&A series. Soon there will more video content coming as skills are refined. So today I just report my notes as I analyse the latest Australian Tax Office payroll data – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 25 July 2020 – released yesterday (August 11, 2020) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Regular readers will know that I have routinely analysed this dataset ever since it first became available in March this year. It uniqueness is that it provides the most recent data upon which an assessment of where the labour market is heading. The monthly labour force data is about two weeks old by the time this data comes out. And the most recent release gives some insights into what the impact of the renewed and severe lockdowns in Victoria (the second largest State economy) has been. The data shows that the jobs recovery has stalled and emphasises the need for more federal fiscal support – but that support does not appear to be forthcoming.
On August 7, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2020 – which shows that while employment continued to grow, the rebound has moderated. The problem facing the US is that the lack of economic support from the Federal government means that the huge pool of unemployment will take years to reduce and the damage will accumulate. How far the recovery can go depends on two factors, both of which are biased negatively: (a) How many firms have gone broke in the lockdown? (b) Whether the US states will have to reverse their lockdown easing in the face of a rapid escalation of the virus in some of the more populace states. But I do not see appropriate policy responses in place at present. From abroad, it looks like the US government is stepping back when it should be engaging in supporting all incomes and introducing large-scale job creation programs.
Today, the Prime Minister of Australia indicated that the ‘effective’ unemployment rate in Australia is heading to 13 per cent as a result of the harsh lockdowns that have just begun in Victoria as it reels under a second wave of coronavirus (Source). The effective rate incorporates the official estimate (based on activity tests – search and willingness), the number of workers who have dropped out of the labour force due to a lack of opportunities, and those on wage subsidies who are not working at all. The Stage 4 Melbourne lockdown for the next six weeks will cut GDP by a further 2.5 per cent. While economists fuss about microeconomic losses, the daily output and income losses from the unemployment and underemployment are massive, not to mention the huge personal, family and community losses. A responsible government, which issues its own currency and can procure any productive resources that are idle, would be doing everything it could to ensure these losses do not occur. It is not rocket science. The Federal government could ensure those who are unable to work due to the lockdown maintain their current incomes. The overwhelming impression I am getting as we enter the fourth month of this crisis is that the federal polity in Australia is lost. The scale of the disaster has so confronted the neoliberal DNA of the major parties that they are failing to articulate a coherent and viable short- and medium-term plan to deal with the crisis. The challenge is for the government to abandon its inclination to see a ‘return to surplus’ as a benchmark it aspires to. That mentality is making this disaster a catastrophe. We can do much better.
The evidence that is mounting is allowing researchers to better assess the damage that is emerging from the way in which we are dealing with the coronavirus. One of the important questions that will determine the future trajectory of our economy relates to how many workplaces have disappeared altogether as a result of the businesses disappearing forever as a result of the flow-on impacts of the compulsory lockdown. Last week (July 14, 2020), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released their latest employment data taken from Australian Tax Office data – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 27 June 2020. They have slowed the release cycle on this data (for reasons they have not disclosed), so it is a month since I have analysed it. The latest data covers the period up to June 27, 2020. The monthly labour force data released last Thursday for June 2020, covers a period that ends around June 12, 2020, so the payroll data provides a more recent snapshot of the state of affairs – an extra three weeks. As the enforced restrictions were eased, payroll employment recovered somewhat and by the end of June is now 5.7 per cent below the March 14, 2020 levels. It appears though that, while part-time work has recovered, full-time work continues to decline. Examining the age profiles of the recovery demonstrates that prime age workers have not enjoyed a commensurate recovery. The two observations are linked and are suggestive of the impacts of the initial damage have now permeated the supply chain and employment losses are spreading outside areas initially most impacted by the lockdown. So my prediction in March that many businesses will disappear because the fiscal support by the government was inadequate and poorly targetted in terms of protecting jobs is looking like being validated by subsequent data. But it now seems that the recovery in employment will be protracted given how many jobs have been lost to date and the renewed lockdowns in Victoria. A much larger fiscal intervention is required and it has to be directed at workers rather than firms and support direct job creation.
The Australian labour market recovered somewhat as the governments eased the lockdown restrictions in the service sector. The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia, June 2020 – released today (June 18, 2020) shows that employment rose by 1.7 per cent. However, participation also rose as job opportunities increased, and the labour force change outstripped the employment increase, which meant that unemployment rose by 69,300 thousand. The rise in employment was totally accounted for by part-time jobs growth, which is a worrying sign. The decline in full-time employment signals that some businesses are closing or others are restructuring their workforces towards more precarious work. The official unemployment rate of 7.4 per cent continues to underestimate the actual impact given that the labour force is still 384 thousand lower than it was in March 2020. Adding those ‘hidden unemployed’ workers back to the underutilisation rate suggests that 22 per cent of the available labour supply is not working in one way or another (unemployment, hidden unemployment, and underemployment). Any government that oversees that sort of disaster has failed in their basic responsibilities to society. It must increase its fiscal stimulus and target it towards large-scale job creation.
The – Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights – for the UN was released this week (July 7, 2020). It was Philip Alston’s last report in that role. It is a shocking indictment of the way neoliberalism has distorted our societies and the way the governments with the capacity to ‘move mountains should they wish’ have been co-opted as agents of capital and perpetuate those distortions. The Report is 19 pages of horror. It also resonates with the latest information coming out of Australia’s Closing the Gap campaign, which aims to bring indigenous Australians up to the material level of non-indigenous Australians. The first ten years of the campaign have been an abject failure. And the latest targets don’t inspire any confidence that the outcomes will be any different. A lot of talk. A lot of consultants. But little effective action – for example, like just creating some jobs to reduce unemployment, allow for income security and poverty alleviation. How hard is it for the government to create some jobs?
On July 2, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2020 – which shows that the US labour market response to the relaxation of lockdown controls gained pace in due, although the question that remains is how long can the governors of the states allow the relaxation to continue given the alarming spread of disease. Already, nations such as Spain are returning to lockdown as their hospital systems become overwhelmed by the ‘second wave’ following easing. And US states such as Texas, Arizona and Florida are approaching the time when they will have to return to some form of lockdown given the health crisis that premature easing has created. The problem is that the lack of economic support from the Federal government makes those decisions difficult to take and extremely damaging for the unemployed. It is almost unbelievable that the Republican politicians are endorsing cutting unemployment support. But, in June, as the economy reopened, the payroll numbers improved as you would expect with a 4.8 million increase in jobs net) and the official unemployment rate rate falling to 11.1 per cent. The numbers filing for unemployment insurance are now falling but now top 49.2 million since March 7, 2020. A further 1.4 million filed in the week ending June 27, 2020. How far the recovery can go depends on two factors, both of which are biased negatively: (a) How many firms have gone broke in the lockdown? (b) Whether the US states will have to reverse their lockdown easing in the face of a rapid escalation of the virus in some of the more populace states. But I do not see appropriate policy responses in place. The US government should have guaranteed all incomes and introduced large-scale job creation programs and a Job Guarantee as an on-going safety net.
Whatever way you want to interpret it, the Australian labour market continued to deteriorate in May 2020. The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia, May 2020 – released today (June 18, 2020) continues to tell a shocking tale. All the main aggregates moved in an adverse direction. Employment fell by 1.8 per cent (227,700). Unemployment rose by 86,700 thousand. But that is a gross understatement of the problem given that the participation rate fell by 0.7 points, which meant the labour force fell by 142 thousand. Without the fall in the participation rate in May 2020, the unemployment rate would have been 8.1 per cent rather than its current value of 7.1 per cent). But relative to August 2019 (peak participation), the unemployment rate would have been 11.7 per cent. The broad labour underutilisation rate is now at 20.2 per cent. There are now 2,639.1 thousand workers either unemployed or underemployed. That number swells to 3,286.5 (or 25.1 per cent) if we add the rise in hidden unemployment back into the ‘jobless’. Any government that oversees that sort of disaster has failed in their basic responsibilities to society. Its fiscal stimulus is totally inadequate.