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Australian labour market – deteriorates in April – employment growth zero and rising hidden unemployment

I saw an Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) economics commentator today headlining “The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.9%”. That implied something good had happened. In fact, not only did the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) say the rate was unchanged (rounded) but the participation also fell, which means the underlying unemployment situation deteriorated. Two days out from a federal election, the ABC should be doing better than that. His Tweet was pure misrepresentation. All this followed the ABS release of the latest labour force data today (May 19, 2022) – Labour Force, Australia – for April 2022. The labour market deteriorated somewhat in April as employment growth was virtually zero and the participation rate fell by 0.1 points. While the official unemployment rate was unchanged when rounding to one decimal place on 3.9 per cent, it would have been higher (4 per cent) had the participation rate remained constant. In other words, hidden unemployment rose by 19.9 thousand. There are still 1.389 million Australian workers without work in one way or another (officially unemployed or underemployed). The only reason the unemployment rate is so low is because the underlying population growth remains low after the border closures over the last two years. My underlying (‘What-if’) unemployment rate is closer to 6.4 per cent rather than the official rate of 3.9 per cent. Finally, with real wages falling so sharply and employment growth virtually zero, one realises that the mainstream claim that lower real wages are good for employment is bunk!

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Australian wages growth remains flat despite RBA claims that a breakout is about to occur

On May 4, 2022, the RBA increased interest rates claiming they had evidence of accelerating wages growth. For the last few years, the RBA had been signalling that they would not move on interest rates until there was a concerted increase in wages growth, which has been at record low levels for some years now. Well, today, we found out the RBA was poorly informed because the latest wages data shows that wages growth has been flat in each of the last three quarters. The is no acceleration. Wages growth is not driving the inflation trajectory. Workers are enduring massive real wage cuts and the RBA has made that worse by pushing up mortgage rates for those exposed. Today (May 18, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2021. The WPI data shows that nominal wages growth was 2.4 over the 12 months. Private sector wages growth has remained at low levels. The last time wages growth was higher was in the December-quarter 2014. While the conservatives are railing about inflation now and looking to target workers’ wages (further cuts), the evidence is that the wages side is not driving any inflationary pressures – the opposite is the case. The business sector, as a whole, thinks it is clever to always oppose wages growth and the banks love that because they can foist more debt onto households to maintain their consumption expenditure. But the reality is clear – there can be no sustained recovery for the economy post Covid without significant increases in the current rate of wages growth.

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Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design and the silence of our political parties

Australia is in the last week of a federal election campaign, which has been marked by a disturbing absence of any policy vision by either main party which might address the most important issues confronting society and our land. Hopefully, the conservatives will get their marching orders this coming weekend (I have scheduled a rare glass of champagne around 22:00 on Saturday, when the result should be known) and the worst government in my lifetime will be gone. The problem is the Labor opposition is also short of policy mission. They have been too scared to enunciate anything much worth thinking about on climate, housing, education, health care, urban planning etc because, as the main narrative goes, they feared being wedged by the conservative government who lacks any remotely acceptable. The rival explanation for Labor’s timidity is that they are not committed to root-and-branch reform because they are inherently neoliberal themselves – a light version of the conservatives – without the extreme right tendencies on gender and those sorts of issues that dominate conservative politics. So, for whatever reason, the main challenges ahead are not being prosecuted by the major parties, which means our society will just be compounding the unsustainable evolution under the neoliberals and the price we will increasingly pay is rising.

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The Weekend Quiz – May 14-15, 2022 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

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The Weekend Quiz – May 14-15, 2022

Welcome to The Weekend Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blog posts that I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.

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US inflation is moderating while a massive fiscal contraction is underway – recession looming

Yesterday (May 11, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index Summary – April 2022 – which showed the monthly increase in the CPI to be 0.3 per cent, the lowest monthly increase since August 2021 and, as it happens, just about right on the average monthly growth rate from January 1947 and April 2022. The result suggests a tapering of price pressures. The Energy component fell by 2.7 per cent in April after spiking at 11 per cent in March. Further, the growth in food prices fell for the third consecutive month. All of this has nothing to do with the recent interest rises imposed on the economy by the US Federal Reserve. They were already in train and confirm the transitory nature of this period of price instability. The US Treasury Department also published its most recent fiscal statistics yesterday – Monthly Treasury Statement – for April 2022, which reports a staggering $US533,794 fiscal shift between April 2021 and April 2022 – the fiscal drag embodied in that shift is massive and calls into question the conduct of the US Federal Reserve – why did they think they needed to push the economy towards recession? Fiscal policy is already working in that direction!

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With corporate profits booming, business can afford to pay higher wages

Last week, I provided a graph in this blog post – The Left/Right distinction is as relevant as ever as corporations gouge profits out of pushing inflation (May 2, 2022) – which showed negotiated wages growth in Europe was declining and real negotiated wages had fallen sharply over the last several months. I am continually on the lookout for evidence that the current inflationary episode, no matter how alarming, is not being driven by structural forces in the labour market even though unemployment rates have fallen somewhat. A music segment follows.

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US labour market showing signs of faltering as real wages continue to decline

Last Friday (May 6, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – April 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 428,000 jobs and an official unemployment rate of 3.6 per cent. However, the Labour Force survey provided the opposite impression with employment and the participation rate falling. It is difficult at this stage to reconcile the two messages except to say that the US labour market has probably reached an inflection point and a deterioration is emerging as the Federal Reserve continues to hike interest rates. The US labour market is still 1,190 thousand payroll jobs short from where it was at the end of April 2020, which helps to explain why there are no wage pressures emerging. Real wages continued to decline as the supply disruptions and the greed of increased corporate profit margin push sustain the inflationary pressures. Any analyst who is claiming the US economy is close to full employment hasn’t looked at the data.

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