In my monthly labour market updates for Australia, I always examine the teenage labour market. Not much media coverage is given to that cohort in this context. But as our societies age and require our younger workers to be more productive than their parents to maintain material living standards (even though we should be reappraising what is an environmentally feasible benchmark to maintain), how we deal with school-to-work transitions, vocational training, university education is a major issue. The fact that governments all around the world have been prepared to impose massive costs on the younger generation as they obsessively pursue fiscal surpluses is one of the scandals of the period and will have long-term consequences for society. Recent Australian research evidence, which is consistent with outcomes from similar international studies, provides strong evidence to support the case that governments should always ensure there are enough jobs for our young population and that fiscal austerity undermines that requirement. Running fiscal deficits doesn’t undermine our children’s futures. Starving them of job opportunities at crucial transition points in their lives definitely undermines their future. We should understand that and stop listening to economists who say otherwise.
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.
Today is Wednesday and after several meetings and preparing for a workshop tonight I am powering away on some writing deadlines for academic-type articles etc. But, on Monday, I didn’t have time to finish the discussion on the pandemic trade-off between saving lives and protecting our material prosperity, particularly the future prosperity of the younger generations. And, just as it always is the case, the unfinished parts of the story I provided was picked up by a rather harsh critic. I chose not to make the comment public because while one of the points made was valid in part (as above), the general tenor was not a view I choose to publicise or give credence to. So today I will elaborate a little more because it also provides a lesson in data analysis, which many people would not really cotton onto straight away. And after we have mashed our brains on outliers etc, we can get funky with some music. Such is life on a Wednesday.
Many issues that become ‘hot topics’ in public debates are really non-questions despite the heat they raise. All sorts of experts advance views, television current affairs programs trawl over them with various of these experts making careers for themselves, politicians take up hours of their time and our time discussing them, yet, when you really break the issue down – there is nothing much to see. The seemingly very erudite debates, discussions, opinions are all based on false starting premises, which are assumed and rarely discussed. This sort of charade is all the legacy of living in the fictional world created by my profession, which has distorted public discourse so badly that we now have people saying old people should be allowed to die terrible deaths from COVID so the young people can have jobs. These are old people who worked all their lives to help build our nations, who fought in World Wars to defend our freedom from daunting enemies, old people who cared for us personally, and old people who mostly, probably, have the joy of life before them each day they open their eyes, just like any of us. The problem is that the whole construction is based on a false premise: being that there has to be widespread economic damage if we choose to protect the health of our peoples. That premise is based on the failure to understand that the currency-issuing government can attenuate any economic losses if it chooses to adopt appropriate economic policy interventions. The fact that real GDP and employment has fallen significantly this year is testament to a failure to use fiscal capacity. We should be better informed before we get into elaborate but flawed debates that essentially come down to turning one population cohort against another.
The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Labour Force, Australia, August 2020 – released today (September 17, 2020) shows that employment rose by 0.9 per cent as the economy struggled to shift back into growth mode. In part, the moderate result was due to the impact of the Stage 4 restrictions in Victoria as that state dealt with the second virus wave. Victoria was the only state or territory to endure negative employment growth in August. As the virus situation is coming under control and the lockdowns are easing, Victoria will rebound fairly quickly – how far depends on the damage done during the closures. The lack of external migration is also seeing the labour force growth moderate significantly, which allowed unemployment to decline by 86.5 thousand on the back of the modest employment boost. Participation also rose. The reality is that if we take a broader view of the labour underutilisation rate (adding in the hidden unemployment who have left the labour force since March) to the official unemployed and underemployed, we find around 19.5 per cent of the available labour supply is not working in one way or another. 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. My overall assessment is: (a) The current situation can best still be described as near catastrophic; (b) The Australian labour market needs massive fiscal policy intervention targetted at direct job creation; (c) The pre-pandemic need for a fiscal stimulus of around 2 per cent has changed to a fiscal stimulus requirement of several times that; (d) The Federal government’s attempts to date have been seriously under-whelming and we will soon see the results of their withdrawal of the unemployment benefit supplement (a ridiculous decision); and (e) Any government that oversees that sort of disaster has failed in their basic responsibilities to society.
On Tuesday (September 8, 2020), the ABS released the latest data for – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 22 August 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. Unsurprisingly, payroll employment fell in the six-week period ending August 22, 2020 in Victoria by 2.5 per cent. But what was also surprising was that employment fell in every other state or territory bar South Australia and NT. The Victorian case is about lockdown. The other declines are about 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 am not holding my breath.
Well now we have a better estimate of how far short the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus was when they introduced the packages in March and April. Massively short is the answer. The latest data release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics of the – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, June 2020 (released September 2, 2020) – is now recording the first three months impact on production and income generation of the lockdowns. The Australian economy collapsed basically, contracting by 7 per cent. Household Consumption expenditure fell sharply as households dramatically increased the saving ratio. The wage share fell below 50 per cent for the first time in recorded history as government support favoured profits. The obvious conclusion is that the Federal government has not supported an ailing economy enough to avoid the damage that negative growth brings. An urgent and major shift in fiscal policy towards further expansion is definitely required. But the government announced this week that they are withdrawing financial support and the result of that policy shift will be carnage!
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.
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.
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.