The other day – in this blog – The British agenda to bring workers to their knees is well advanced – I considered the recent British Trades Union Congress (TUC) report (July 12, 2013) – The UK’s Low Pay Recovery – which shows that “eighty per cent of net job creation since June 2010 has taken place in industries where the average wage is less than £7.95 an hour”. The Report also showed that the middle-pay jobs were being shed and the bifurcation in the British labour market between an increasing number of (self-employed) low-paid jobs with precarious working conditions and future and the high pay jobs, which seemingly avoided much of the negative impacts of the recession, has intensified. The middle in Britain is being hollowed out and replaced by an increasing number of low paid workers. In Australia, 84 per cent of jobs created in the last 6 months have been part-time and underemployment has risen since February 2008 (the low-point in the last cycle) from 666.3 thousand (5.9 per cent) to 908.6 thousand (7.4 per cent). The question I look at in this blog, is the wage impacts of these employment trends in Australia. Are we also seeing the same hollowing out as is clearly occurring in Britain. Of those 84 per cent of jobs, what proportion are low-paid, medium-paid and high-paid. Clearly, if most of them are at the bottom end of the wage distribution then the raw figure of 84 per cent sits on top of an increasing disaster for the prosperity of working families.
Today’s release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of the – Labour Force data – for June 2013 signals a deteriorating situation. Employment growth was about zero and full-time employment continued to contract. 84 per cent of jobs created in the last 6 months have been part-time. Unemployment rose by 23,700 and the unemployment rate rose 0.2 points to 5.7 per cent. This data signals an urgent need for fiscal stimulus to reverse the negative trend. Unfortunately, with both sides of politics locked into an austerity mindset the situation is likely to deteriorate further.
Australia recently acquired a new (old) Prime Minister and a new Treasurer (Chris Bowen) as a result of the on-going machinations within the Australian Labor Party. It seems to have done the trick – at least at present – with the two-party preferred vote split 50-50 now instead of 42-58 in favour of the moribund conservatives who were steaming into office, it seemed, with no credibility at all – just a generalised dislike for the previous PM and her cabinet. Within two days, however, of taking his post, the new Treasurer agreed that it was the Government’s policy to drive unemployment up by maintaining its totally inappropriate (and failed) strategy to achieve a budget surplus. This was in the same week as more disastrous labour market data has been released. It seems that our “change” of government has just taken on all the old destructive narratives of the “former” regime. One neo-liberal Treasurer walks out and a clone walks in.
The continuing obsession among policy makers combines fiscal austerity and deregulation (particularly of labour markets) as the hope for prosperity. I know these are just catch cries that aim to obfuscate the underlying intent which is to redistribute real income away from workers. But even that conspiracy theory has certain problems when you realise that business doesn’t necessarily do very well in general when economies are locked in a recessive mire. The structural reform argument goes that growth can be engendered by deregulating the labour market to remove inefficiencies that create bottlenecks for growth even when fiscal austerity is slashing aggregate demand and killing growth. The 1994 OECD Jobs Study the provides the framework for this policy approach. The only problem is that it failed even before the crisis emerged. But with policymakers intent on slashing aggregate demand, which they know will kill growth, they have to offer something that they can pretend will generate growth. The structural reform agenda has zero credibility in the same way that fiscal austerity has zero credibility. The latest vacancy data from Australia continues to provide an evidential basis for rejecting both conservative agendas.
Today’s release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of the – Labour Force data – for May 2013 signals a deteriorating situation. Employment growth was about zero. The fall in the unemployment rate was due to a decline in the participation rate. Monthly hours worked fell as full-time employment contracted. The broad labour underutilisation rate rose sharply by 0.4 pts to 12.9 per cent with more than 908 thousand workers underemployed. This data signals an urgent need for fiscal stimulus to reverse the negative trend. Unfortunately, with both sides of politics locked into an austerity mindset the situation is likely to deteriorate further.
Tonight is the Federal Budget night. Tomorrow’s blog analysis could be as long as “its appalling”. We already know that. So I might take a day off and leave it at that. Some of the policy changes announced already are certainly appalling. Regular readers will know I have been keeping tabs on the way the Federal unemployment benefit in Australia has failed to keep pace with the poverty line and the Government has refused to do anything about it. At present, the single unemployment benefit stands at $35.50 a day which is well the single unemployed poverty line of $A64.10 per day. For married couples the unemployment benefit is currently at $56.47 per day, while the corresponding poverty line is set at $79.99 per day. While the Government has been under intense pressure from a number of different sources (including the typical welfare lobby groups, the OECD (not typical) and even right-wing columnists (definitely not typical) to address this disgrace. It has resisted any rise in the benefit and continually claims it is about jobs not welfare and is in the process of creating work. Not much action seems to happen on that front. Tonight’s budget will announce their latest offering in this regard. They are going to allow the unemployed to earn an extra $A19 per week before their benefits is cut. It claims it cannot afford any more because it has run out of money and needs to get back to surplus as soon as possible. The reality is that it can never run out of money, it needs to triple the current budget deficit to address the growing output gap, and is once again failing the most disadvantaged Australians that it professes it care about. The Government is also comprised of serial liars who will be decimated in the upcoming Federal election because their political support base has shrunk so much because they stand for nothing that is worth supporting.
Today’s release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of the – Labour Force data – for April 2013 shows reasonably strong employment growth. The data looks good – employment up, full-time employment up, participation up, monthly hours worked up. But the message you need to get is that the data is very volatile at present and hard to interpret. We have to go to the underlying trends to get a better impression. The fluctuating monthly fortunes are over what remains a fairly weak labour market. It is not collapsing but it is not growing strongly enough to really bring down the substantial stock of underutilised labour.
Today’s release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of the – Labour Force data – for March 2013 reveals a very weak and deteriorating labour market. All the main indicators were bad – employment fell, full-time employment fell, unemployment rose, participation fell and aggregate monthly hours worked fell. The unemployment rate would have risen to 5.9 per cent rather than the 0.2 point rise to 5.6 per cent had the participation rate not fallen by 0.2 points. There are now 686 thousand workers unemployed. The youth labour market remains in an appalling state. Overall, the data is consistent with the steady flow of information pointing to a contraction in the Australian economy, which is being deliberately exacerbated by the Federal Government’s insistence that it pursues a budget surplus. Private spending growth is insufficient to drive growth at present and the Government should be increasing the deficit and targetting job creation programs. Instead, it marches on to electoral oblivion and watches the labour market deteriorate and unemployment rise.
After several months of very poor labour market news, today’s release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) of the Labour Force data for February 2013 provides some respite. In fact, all the main indicators moved in a virtuous direction, which is a welcome outcome. Caution is required in interpreting monthly data movements as the standard errors are larger than most would imagine. But there was a sharp rise in total employment reported by the ABS, the participation rate rose and monthly hours of work improved. Most of the rise in employment was in part-time jobs. This is the first month in several that employment growth has outstripped the underlying population growth rate. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.4 per cent but would have been 0.3 points lower had the participation rate not risen. So unemployment rose a little and hidden unemployment fell more. However, the continuing negative feature that should warrant immediate policy concern is the appalling state of the youth labour market. The 15-19 year old segment of the labour market continued to deteriorate even though part-time job opportunities surged. That is a deeply disturbing sign. Overall there are still at least 12.5 per cent of the willing work force without work (either unemployed or underemployed). So there is still a massive job shortage and today’s data shows that in February only a tiny fraction of that shortage was reduced. We will also await revisions!
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released their latest – Persons Not in the Labour Force, Australia – release for September 2012 last week (March 7, 2013). This is an annual publication and provides a detailed breakdown of the demographics of those not in the labour force and the reasons for that status. In particular interest to me is the information the data provides on discouraged and marginal workers. The data allows us to reconstruct the labour force data, under certain assumptions, to generate a very broad indicator of labour underutilisation in Australia, which includes official unemployment, underemployment, and hidden unemployment. What this indicator reveals is that Australia is enduring massive wastage of labour and statements by the Federal Treasurer and other Ministers that we are close to full employment should be treated with the contempt they deserve. That is the subject of this blog.