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Australian labour market – mediocre and worse to come

This is the ‘calm before the storm’ data release, although the calm is already pretty poor. It will get worse in months to come. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released of its latest data today (March 19, 2020) – Labour Force, Australia, February 2020 – which continues to show that the Australian economy is in a weak state with a fairly moderate labour market performance being recorded for the start of 2020. The culprit in the coming months will be the coronavirus. But to date there is one culprit – the Australian government – which has been starving spending by its obsessive pursuit of a fiscal surplus. Employment growth was weak – 0.2 per cent and only outstripped the change in the labour force because participation fell by 0.1 points. As a consequence, unemployment fell by 26,400 as about that many workers exited the labour force. The fall in broad labour underutilisation from 13.9 per cent to 13.7 per cent is all due to the decline in participation. There were a total of 1,882.1 thousand workers either unemployed or underemployed. This is a deplorable result. My overall assessment is that the Australian labour market remains a considerable distance from full employment and that that distance is increasing. With the coronavirus about to dwarf everything, the prior need for a fiscal stimulus of around 2 per cent has changed to a fiscal stimulus requirement of several times that. There is clear room for some serious fiscal policy expansion at present and the Federal government should not delay any further.

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