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Labour market – going backwards now

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for July 2010 which show that the unemployment rate is rising (now 5.3 per cent up from 5.1 per cent) and hours worked declining for the second consecutive month. Full-time employment is falling with net job creation being driven by part-time. Employment growth overall has been struggling to keep pace with the population growth and now it has fallen behind. The decline in full-time employment is also translating into declining aggregate hours worked which suggests that underemployment will also be rising. But a positive note is the reversal in the falling participation rate. While the bank economists have hailed today’s figures as indicative of “a healthy labour market”, the reality is that the data is consistent with a broad array of statistics showing the Australian economy is slowing as the effects of the fiscal stimulus dissipate and and private spending remains subdued. It is not a healthy labour market at all.

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Full employment apparently equals 12.2 per cent labour wastage

There is an election campaign upon us in Australia now and one of the themes the government is developing by way of garnering credit for its policies is that Australia is operating at near full employment thanks to their economic policy framework. Nothing could be further from the truth – both that we are close to full employment and that their policy framework is moving us towards full employment. But this claim, which is repeated often these days and was a catchcry of the former conservative government as well, is a testament as to how successful the neo-liberal orthodoxy has perverted the meaning of signficant concepts (like full employment) and convinced the community that you can be near full employment and therefore there is no real problem to address when you have at least 12.2 per cent of your willing labour resources being wasted. It continually amazes me.

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Labour market – just marking time

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for June 2010 which show that the unemployment rate is stable at 5.1 per cent (last month was revised down to 5.1 per cent) with virtually no change in the number of jobless. While employment growth is remains positive it is just keeping pace with the growth in the labour force. Further, the recent trend towards full-time employment growth has moderated and part-time growth dominated this month’s employment gains. As a result, aggregate hours worked fell in June which suggests that underemployment will have risen slightly. But a positive note is the reversal in the falling participation rate. While the bank economists have hailed today’s figures as indicative of an economy “near full capacity”, the reality is that the data is consistent with a broad array of statistics showing the Australian economy is slowing as the effects of the fiscal stimulus dissipate and and private spending remains subdued.

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Australian labour market data – mostly discouraging

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for May 2010 which show that the unemployment rate has fallen by 0.2 percentage points ostensibly, if you believe the press reports and the comments from the bank economists, on the back of continued strong growth in full-time employment. The truth is different. While full-time employment growth was positive it is not accelerating and overall employment growth slowed in May 2010. More importantly, all the fall in unemployment was due to a further drop in the labour force participation rate. So employment growth remains sluggish and is barely keeping pace with the growth in the population. The good news is that aggregate hours worked continued to increase which is reducing underemployment a little. While the bank economists have hailed today’s figures as indicative of an economy “near full capacity”, the reality is that the data is consistent with a broad array of statistics showing the Australian economy is slowing as the effects of the fiscal stimulus dissipate and and private spending remains subdued. It is amazing how a few headlines can distort what is actually going on.

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Labour force data – no boom yet!

Australia’s economy is apparently booming. At least that is what all the current public rhetoric is suggesting. Wage breakouts are apparently looming and the Mining boom (is) too hot for Canberra to handle. Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for April 2010 and the data reveals that while there are positive developments in the labour market, employment growth remains sluggish and is barely keeping pace with the growth in the population. Unemployment rose a tad as a result. While the bank economists have hailed today’s figures as “stellar” and indicative of an economy “near full capacity”, I consider their judgement to be seriously impaired and biased. Conditions in the Australian labour market are, in fact, fairly subdued. As I said last month – with the declining fiscal stimulus and private spending remaining subdued – today’s data doesn’t represent a place we would want to be in for very long.

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The Australian labour market remains tepid

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for March 2010 and the data reveals that employment growth is very tentative and unemployment is rising. Unemployment rates in the populous states have risen. Further, labour force participation fell which makes the situation even more sombre. The bank economists have claimed that this is a picture of a near booming economy with wage inflation and skills shortages becoming the main focus. I consider their judgement to be seriously impaired and biased. Amidst all the talk about strong employment growth and wage breakouts about to happen – conditions in the Australian labour market are, in fact, very tepid as the impact of the fiscal stimulus wanes. With the declining fiscal stimulus and private spending remaining subdued – today’s data doesn’t represent a place we would want to be in for very long.

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The white hot labour market just went a tad cool

In a way this is an extension of yesterday’s blog where I argued that the gap between the outlandish statements coming from the media and other commentators about how the economy is tracking and the actual data is substantial. Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for February 2010 and the data reveals that employment growth stalled and unemployment rose again. The “markets” (those geniuses) had factored in a solid employment growth which only suggests they know how to extrapolate on recent data points. Further, labour force participation fell which makes the situation even more sombre. So amidst all the talk about employment going ape and wage breakouts about to happen – things have cooled somewhat as the impact of the fiscal stimulus wanes. Yes, its a monthly result and the trend is still mildly positive. But with the declining fiscal stimulus and private spending remaining subdued – today’s data doesn’t signal a steam train economy.

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Coming down the face

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for January 2010 and there was quite a strong growth in employment reveals, albeit it was dominated by part-time growth. The employment boost confounded the “markets”, some of the so-called experts had “factored in” contraction (so I guess their clients are dudded by their incompetence again!). With participation constant, the net jobs growth translates into solid reductions in unemployment. Unfortunately, total hours worked plummetted so I suspect it will be a grinding part-time led recovery. But the good news is that unless something bad happens elsewhere in the World we are now well over the aggregate unemployment rate peak and surfing down the face!

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Looking beyond the peak

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for December 2009 and it confirms that the Australian economy is still recovering under the steam of the fiscal stimulus. Total employment has grown by three times more than expected and participation is constant. Which means that unemployment has started to fall although underemployment hasn’t budged. While the media commentators today (including myself) have been fairly upbeat I have been reminding the public in media interviews that I have done that broader labour underutilisation (sum of unemployment and underemployment) remains at 13.5 per cent. But optimistically the trend is now looking as though the aggregate unemployment rate may have peaked. So it is now to start looking beyond the peak.

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The daily losses from unemployment

I have been doing some work again on the costs of unemployment and this blog gives a snapshot of part of that research. One of the strong empirical results that emerge from the Great Depression is that the job relief programs that the various governments implemented to try to attenuate the massive rise in unemployment were very beneficial. At that time, it was realised that having workers locked out of the production process because there were not enough private jobs being generated was not only irrational in terms of lost income but also caused society additional problems, such as rising crime rates. Direct job creation was a very effective way of attenuating these costs while the private sector regained its optimism. In fact, it took about 50 years or so for governments to abandon this way of thinking. Now we tolerate high levels of unemployment without a clear understanding of the magnitude of costs that that policy position imposes on specific individuals and society in general. The single most rational thing a government could do was to ensure that there were enough jobs to match the available labour force. Mostly, they fail badly to achieve this level of sophistication.

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