Labour Force September 2021 – Unemployment rate remains low at 4.6 per cent

Labour force figures released today by the ABS show the level of employment fell by 138,000 (or 1.1 per cent) in August, in line with market expectations.

There were mixed results with full-time employment increasing by 26,700 (or 0.3 per cent) over the month while part-time employment declined by 164,700 (or 4.1 per cent). The underemployment rate decreased to 9.2 per cent with the number of monthly hours worked in all jobs increasing by 15.0 million hours (or 0.9 per cent) over the month, to 1,729.0 million hours in September 2021.

Reinforcing the importance of sticking with the National Plan for reopening, as agreed by all states and territories at National Cabinet, the falls in national employment levels were driven by declines in jurisdictions facing COVID-19 lockdowns

There were declines in employment of 122,800 (or 3.5 per cent) in Victoria, 24,800 (or 0.6 per cent) in New South Wales and 7,400 (or 3.2 per cent) in the Australian Capital Territory. This was partially offset by growth in employment of 30,800 (or 1.2 per cent) in Queensland, as conditions there recovered from the lockdown in early August.

The level of unemployment increased by 8,900 (or 1.4 per cent). The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points, to 4.6 per cent in September.

The ABS has advised that the decrease in employment in August did not translate into a similar increase in unemployment, because a large number of people left the labour force, pushing the participation rate down by 0.7 percentage points, to 64.5 per cent.

The number of people leaving the labour force in September was mostly driven by changes in Victoria, where 103,600 people left the labour force and the participation rate fell to 65.0 per cent, the lowest rate recorded since October 2020.

The figures released today reflect the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on domestic economic growth and labour market activity.

In recognition of these difficulties, the Government has provided more than $9 billion in COVID-19 Disaster Payments to around two million Australians, and has continued to provide business support for all states and territories, with temporary, targeted and proportionate economic assistance specifically tailored to helping Australians navigate their way through the pandemic.

Crucially, this has helped to maintain the connection between employers and employees and, in doing so, will support the economic and labour market recovery as restrictions continue to ease. Indeed, experience from past lockdowns has shown the ability of the Australian labour market to recover strongly once lockdowns end.

According to the RBA, however, the timing and strength of the rebound in activity is currently uncertain although it is likely to be slower than that experienced earlier in the year and will depend on the evolving health situation and the pace of easing of restrictions. The current rapid pace of the vaccine roll-out, however, augurs well for a pick-up in economic activity towards the end of the year.

It is worth noting that, under the RBA’s central scenario, the Australian economy should be growing again by the December quarter and is expected to be back around its pre-Delta path in the second half of 2022.

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