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US labour market improves but GFC residue remains

On October 5, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by only 134,000. The labour force survey measures show that employment growth outstripped the growth in the labour force, which resulted in the unemployment rate declining by 0.2 points to 3.69 per cent. The US labour market is reaching unemployment rates not seen since the late 1960s, although the participation rate is well below the pre-GFC levels and a substantial jobs deficit remains. The employment-population ratio rose by 0.1 points in September. Taken together, the US labour market continued to improve in September but remains some distance from full employment.

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‘Progressive’ groups in Australia captured by neoliberal ideology

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), which represents income support recipients, in conjunction with Jobs Australia (a peak body for the not-for-profit job services providers) released a report last week (September 14, 2018) – Faces of Unemployment – which was a welcome return to a focus on joblessness and the need to provide more jobs, rather than the lame faux-progressive retreat to UBI advocacy that has dominated the policy debate for the last few years. However, once you start reading the analysis you realise that these supposedly ‘progressive’ organisations offer the same old neoliberal remedies to solving poverty and unemployment. They want: Compulsory, assisted job search, which is just coercion of jobless workers by Australia’s privatised job services industry that has an appalling record; 2. Wage subsidies in the private sector and Public sector wage subsidies – which never produce effective sustainable outcomes of sufficient magnitude to be called a solution; and vocational training, which is the same old ‘put workers on the training treadmill and shuffle the jobless queue’. This reinforces the theme I focus on a lot that the progressive elements in our society have become captured by the neoliberal mainstream and cannot think outside that frame. There is actually no mention or analysis of public sector job creation programs in the entire ACOSS/JA Report. Sadly, groups like ACOSS have a major public voice and the Federal government sees their advocacy as non-threatening because the type of policies they advocate are mainstream neoliberal and just more of what the Government, itself, thinks are viable. The irony (or disgrace) is that if these policies were effective then the ACOSS/JA Report would not have had to be written. Just imagine what they could have written about the “Faces of Unemployment” if a Job Guarantee program effectively wiped unemployment out. It would become a very short story of workers moving between jobs.

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Australian labour market – employment growth improves but uncertainty remains

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia, August 2018 – today which show that the Australian labour market showed better signs in August 2018 than in July but there are questions about the sensitivity of the results to the sample rotation used by the ABS to construct its survey. I expect the results to be revised downwards next month. With that said, employment growth was solid (dominated by full-time growth) and the participation rate rose. Taken together, unemployment rose slightly and the unemployment rate was steady. Monthly hours worked however hardly moved which is further reason to doubt the employment estimates. Overall, my assessment is that the Australian labour market remains in an uncertain state and, is still a considerable distance from full employment. There is clear room for some serious policy expansion at present.

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British labour market – low unemployment hiding a deeper malaise

The British Office of National Statistics (ONS) published its latest labour market data last week (August 14, 2018) – Labour market economic commentary: August 2018. The results are illuminating because they demonstrate how we must use broad concepts to appraise labour market health rather than just focusing on the official unemployment rate. A marked characteristic of the British labour market has been the near zero rate of growth in wages (and falling real wages) for some years, despite the claims that employment has reached record levels and the unemployment rate is now at levels unseen since the early 1970s. The research question is to dig deeper into the data to see what might be driving these relationships. The conclusion I reach is that the quality of employment has fallen somewhat over the last decade or so and the capacity of workers to successfully achieve wage settlements has fallen significantly as trade union membership has gone south. I am doing more formal research on this question to narrow down all the determinants and will report when I have more to say.

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Australian labour market weakens in July 2018

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia, July 2018 – today which show that the Australian labour market weakened in July 2018 and one is lead to think that the June 2018 improvement was an outlier after several months of poor results earlier in the year. It looks like the labour market has settled back into that weak pattern. Overall employment growth was negative but this was all down to the teenage segment, where there were substantial losses of part-time work. Unemployment fell marginally but only because the participation rate fell by 0.1 points, which meant that the labour force contracted by more than employment. Overall, my assessment is that the Australian labour market remains in an uncertain state, but is on the weak side, and, is still a considerable distance from full employment. There is room for some serious policy expansion at present.

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Framing matters – the unemployed and the farmers

At present, Europe is sweltering in both relative and absolute terms as the harsh summer ensues. In Australia, we are in drought after an unseasonably warm and dry Autumn. Drought is no stranger to Australia but the frequency and circumstances of the current period coupled with what is going on around Europe (including the cold spell I was caught up in Finland in February while the North Pole struggled with heat) tells us that weather patterns are changing. There is now credible research pointing in that direction. But the drought in Australia is demonstrating another thing – the hypocrisy of the way we deal with unemployment and the unemployed vis-a-vis other groups in society that we endow with higher privilege, especially in this neoliberal era. Australia is experiencing a serious drought and Federal and State governments are tripping over each other to offer very large support packages to farmers and their communities to tide them over while their income dries up (excuse the pun). There appears to be no limit to the support these governments are announcing. The Prime Minister is wandering around rural Australia promising this and that to help farmers make ends meet. Whenever I see these special assistance packages being handed out to the rural sector, which is politically well-organised, I reflect on the plight of the unemployed. With unemployment at elevated levels in Australia, the decision to hand out economic largesse to the farmers reeks of inconsistency. The unemployed have diminishing chances of getting a job at present and the income support provided by government is well below the poverty line. That poverty gap is increasing and the Government refuses to increase the benefit claiming fiscal incapacity. The comparison of the vastly different way the government treats farmers relative to unemployed highlights, once again, that the way we construct a problem significantly affects the way we seek to solve it. The neo-liberal era has intensified these inconsistencies which have undermined the capacity of public policy to achieve its purpose – to improve the welfare of all citizens. The research question is: Why do we tolerate such inconsistent ways of thinking about policy problems and their solutions?

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Australian labour market – stronger employment growth but still uncertain

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Labour Force, Australia, June 2018 – today which show that the Australian labour market gained some strength after several months of poor results. Overall employment growth was stronger with a robust increase in full-time employment, although the overall increase in monthly hours worked was modest. Unemployment fell marginally with the unemployment rate steady at 5.4 per cent. However, participation rose by 0.2 per cent and employment growth was strong enough to absorb both the underlying population growth and the new entrants into the labour force. The teenage labour market delivered mixed results – with overall employment rising disproportionately but full-time employment declining. A further grey cloud came with the rise in underemployment by 35.1 thousand to 8.6 per cent. The broad labour underutilisation rate rose to 13.73 per cent. Overall, my assessment is that the Australian labour market remains in an uncertain state and is still a considerable distance from full employment.

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New Labour Account framework in Australia provides new insights

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released a new labour market framework on Tuesday (July 10, 2018) – Labour Account Australia, Quarterly Experimental Estimates – which will improve statistical analysis and allow new conjectures to be examined against the evidence. This blog post is really an exploration on my behalf of this new dataset and I know it is rather dry. But that is part of my work and it has to be done to build an evidential basis for the claims I make about this and that. I am still exploring the framework and will obviously use it to advantage (hopefully) in the future but for now here are some of the compelling insights that emerge from it. The first obvious new insight we can gain is to divide total filled jobs (employment) into Main and Secondary jobs. This allows us to assess the quality of the change in overall employment. Up until now we have considered employment in terms of persons employed. But now we can work out how many persons are employed in more than one job and where those jobs are. It provides an excellent check on statements made by politicians etc about the number of jobs being created and their quality.

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US labour market – muddling along and real wages growth goes negative

On July 6, 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2018 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by 213,000 and the unemployment rate rose by 0.2 per cent to 4 per cent in June 2018. The employment-population ratio was unchanged in June at 60.4 percent and has been largely stable since February 2018. The Labour Force Survey data, however, showed that employment only rose just 102 thousand in June 2018 and was accompanied by a substantial rise in the labour force (601 thousand) on the back of a surge in participation (up 0.2 points), which meant that total unemployment rise by 499 thousand. The broad labour underutilisation measure (U-6) also signalled weakness, rising by 0.2 points. There is still no evidence of a wages breakout going on although wages growth for blue-collar occupations has surpassed the white-collar occupations over the last 8 quarters. However, the data shows that real wages fell in June 2018 by 0.4 points. Taken together, the US labour market is showing no definite trend up or down at present and it is still some distance from being at full employment.

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Employer groups in Australia lied about the impacts of penalty rate cuts

Sunday (July 1, 2018) was a very sad day in Australia because it marked the second phase of the cuts to penalty rates for workers in the lowest paid sectors of the Economy. The Fair Work Commission (FWC), which is the quasi-judicial tribunal that sets wages in Australia including legally binding minimum wages and conditions, bowed to the relentless pressure from employers (and the conservative federal government) and decided to cut penalty rates for some of the lowest-paid workers in Australia. The cuts which will eventually savage take-home pay for these workers were phased in from July 1, 2017 with the final cuts coming in 2020. The phasing in process where saw Sunday wages will fall from 200 per cent to 150 per cent over that period was justified by the FWC because the cuts would be extremely damaging to the prosperity of the low-paid workers impacted. Anyway, we have just passed the first year of the cuts and this week marks the second phase. Given we received the latest employment by industry data in the last fortnight, we can undertake some detailed analysis to see whether there is any evidence to support the employers’ claims that the cuts would benefit jobs and hours of work in the impacted sectors (Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services). You will not be surprised to read that the opposite seems to be the case, although the generally poor results for the industries that are sensitive to the penalty rate cuts cannot be attributed directly to those cuts. But the evidence is very strong – the cuts to penalty rates have hurt low paid workers and driven then towards or over the poverty line with no positive effects being evident in terms of employment or working hour gains.

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