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Australia – lowest nominal wages growth on record leading to significant real wage cuts

It’s Wednesday and I usually don’t write much on my blog. But today, history was made and so I thought I should at least cover it. Today (November 18, 2020), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest- Wage Price Index, Australia – (September-quarter 2020). The ABS reported that while “the September quarter is generally a quarter of solid wage growth … the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a subdued rate of wage growth in the September quarter 2020”. However, they might also have said that today’s result was “the lowest quarterly growth in the 22-year history of the WPI”. Private sector grow was just 0.1 per cent and public sector growth was just 0.2 per cent. The overall WPI growth was just 0.1 per cent. With the quarterly inflation in the September-quarter was recorded at 0.693 per cent, real wages thus fell for Australian workers. Further, over the longer period, real wages growth is still running well behind the growth in GDP per hour (productivity), which has allowed profits to secure a substantially increased share of national income.

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Cutting wages in a deep recession is not a sensible policy

Victoria went the so-called ‘double doughnut’ again today with zero new infections and zero deaths – the fourth consecutive day. It now has the lowest number of people sick with the virus (known) since the start of the pandemic in Australia in February. Only 38 active cases remain in Victoria after its 12 week lockdown. There is no community transmission reported now in Victoria and the other day Australia recorded zero (community transmitted) cases overall. So things are less tense than they were. I still haven’t been able to travel to my office in Melbourne which I have been away from since the lockdowns started in June. But hope springs eternal that the NSW government will open the border and let us move freely between the States. At the same time, the NSW government is demonstrating its economic incompetence. The State Treasurer announced that in the midst of the worst crisis in 100 years, it is cutting the pay of its public servants when it brings down its fiscal statement. Clue: when in a deep recession with records levels of household debt dramatically constraining growth in household consumption expenditure, which in turn, is killing growth, then the sure fire way to make matters worse by cutting the very source of consumption expenditure – yes, you get it – workers’ wages.

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Long-term unemployment in America falls when employment growth increases

A few weeks ago, I updated my research on the way employment growth accesses the different unemployment duration pools using Australian data. In that blog post (October 19, 2020) – The long-term unemployed are not an inflation constraint in a recovery – I showed that the claim that the long-term unemployed constitute an inflation constraint because employers will not choose to offer them jobs due to perceived scarring is a popular neoliberal assertion but has no basis in the actual data. The orthodox economists use that assertion to justify microeconomic (supply-side) policies (training, activation, etc) rather than direct job creation. The reality is that when employment growth is strong enough, both short-run and long-run pools of the unemployed are accessed by employers. In the latter case, employers alter hiring standards and offer on-the-job training to ensure they do not lose market share. I have received several E-mails stating that the US is different and the long-term unemployed are shunned by employers, which means that trying to stimulate the economy will hit the inflation constraint sooner than if there was a Job Guarantee in place. Logically, there is no reason the US labour market operates differently in any fundamental way to the Australian labour market so I decided to examine the validity of the ‘irreversibility hypothesis’ using US data. Guess what? The hypothesis doesn’t hold up in the US either.

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Australian labour market continues to go backwards as government sits idly by

On Tuesday (October 20, 2020), the ABS released the latest data for – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 3 October 2020 – which gives us the most up-to-date picture of how the labour market is coping with the on-going restrictions. Last week, the ABS released the monthly labour force survey data which covered the period up until September 14. Today’s data gives us an extra two weeks of information to gauge what is happening. It also provides us more accurate estimates of the impact of the harsh Stage 4 restrictions that have been imposed in Victoria to address the Second Wave of the coronavirus. Those restrictions were eased last weekend after the government has brought the outbreak under control. So hopefully, today’s data will signal just about the trough before the slow recovery begins as more activities open up. Overall, payroll employment has fallen by 0.7 points since July 25, 2020, when the lockdowns began in earnest. Unsurprisingly, payroll employment fell in the six-week period ending October 3, 2020 in Victoria by 2.3 points. Employment has also fallen in NSW by 0.7 points over the same period. The Victorian case is about lockdown. NSW is in decline because of failed macroeconomic policy, which goes to the performance of the federal government. 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 more needs to be done by the Federal government. The problem is the federal government is now engaging itself in trivial political point scoring instead of showing economic leadership.

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US labour market – floundering now despite modest gains

On October 2, 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2020 – which shows that while employment continued to grow, the rebound has moderated significantly. Further, the unemployment rate fell by 0.5 points to 7.9 per cent but only because the participation rate fell by 0.3 points, which saw less workers in the labour force. If the participation rate had not fallen, then there would have been only a marginal improvement in the unemployment situation. The sources of that participation decline are not disclosed. 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. 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.

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Latest employment data in Australia continues sorry tale and what I would do about it

On Tuesday (September 22, 2020), the ABS released the latest data for – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 5 September 2020 – which gives us the most up-to-date picture of how the labour market is coping with the on-going restrictions. This data provides more accurate estimates of the impact of the harsh Stage 4 restrictions that have been imposed in Victoria to address the Second Wave of the coronavirus. Overall, payroll employment has fallen by 0.9 points since July 25, 2020, when the lockdowns began in earnest. Unsurprisingly, payroll employment fell in the six-week period ending September 5, 2020 in Victoria by 2.8 points. Employment has also fallen in NSW by 0.5 points in the last 6 weeks. The Victorian case is about lockdown. NSW is in decline because of failed macroeconomic policy, which goes to the performance of the federal government. 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 more needs to be done by the Federal government. I provide some clues as to where an extra $100 billion might be spent below.

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How would Job Guarantee wages be set?

It is Wednesday so some snippets and some music – sad music this week because it signals the death of one of the great pioneers of Jamaican music last week. I am holding a Mini-Music Festival today – right here on my blog. Join in an celebrate a legend. But a few economics matters first pertaining to the Job Guarantee and the nonsensical arguments I have been seeing in the media about it being a system of enslavement and not better than a system that forces workers into unemployment.

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Payroll employment falling again as second-wave and inadequate policy response bites

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.

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Wages growth in Australia at record lows

Last week was a very busy data release week and so I am still catching up. Last Wednesday (August 12, 2020), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest- Wage Price Index, Australia – (June-quarter 2020). The ABS reported that the June-quarter result was “the lowest annual growth in the 22-year history of the WPI”. Private sector grow was just 0.1 per cent and public sector growth was 0.6 per cent. The overall WPI growth was just 0.2 per cent. With annual inflation in the June-quarter recorded at -0.3 per cent, real wages grew. But the inflation result was distorted the federal government decision to offer free child care in the early period of the pandemic (now rescinded). The reality is better reflected in the core inflation rate (excluding volatile items) of 0.4 per cent. Taking that measure, real wages fell overall in Australia in the June quarter. Further, over the longer period, real wages growth is still running well behind the growth in GDP per hour (productivity), which has allowed profits to secure a substantially increased share of national income.

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Fundamental lack of leadership vision in Australia’s response to the pandemic

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.

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