Friday, March 12, 2010

Welcome back... to the biggest "return to work" in 20 years

Millions and millions of hours of hidden underemployment are being unwound

Not that you would know it reading some coverage

Employers have switched to hiring full-time pushing the unemployment rate as low as 5.2 per cent and piling on tens of millions of new work hours as part of the biggest "return to work" in two decades.

The February employment figures revise up January's supersized employment gain from 54,000 to 57,000 and push down its unemployment rate from the surprisingly-low 5.3 per cent to 5.2 per cent.

Although the seasonally-adjusted employment total was little changed in February allowing the unemployment rate to drift back up to 5.3 per cent the mix of jobs switched dramatically as a near-record number of Australians with part-time jobs converted to full-time and as the hours worked by those who stayed part-time climbed to a record high.

Raw figures collected by the Bureau of Statistics show 337,000 part-time workers went full-time in Feburary, far exceeding the 299,000 full-timers who cut their hours. As many as 395,000 previously out-of-work Australians found jobs, eclipsing the 321,000 previously-employed workers who dropped out.

"This is the biggest return to work since August 1988"... said Commonwealth Bank economist James McIntyre. "Australians went back to work in February, in a big way. Hours worked rose 2.4 per cent and full-time hours 2.6 per cent."

Macquarie Bank economist Rory Robertson labeled the result "unbelievable, literally unbelievable" saying the jobs market had "almost fully reversed" all of the slide in working hours during the course of the financial crisis.

Employment Minister Julia Gillard paid tribute to the "employers, employees and unions" she said had worked together to bring about the result.

"During the crisis many businesses moved to lesser working hours so that they could hold people in work and now as they can they are moving people to a greater number of hours either by moving them from part time to full time or slightly increasing the number of hours worked".

"I would make the point, though that there are 128,000 Australians who have lost their jobs and been added to the unemployment queue during this crisis. There’s more work to do."

The NSW unemployment rate slid further from 5.6 to 5.4 per cent putting it well below its high of 6.8 per cent reached in March.

"Since March we've created more than 66,000 extra jobs," said Treasurer Eric Roozendaal. "Our economy grew faster in the first half of this financial year than any other Australian state."

But the ABS trend figures show NSW full-time employment flat at a time when it is climbing strongly in every other state apart from Tasmania.

Tasmania and Queensland have Australia's highest unemployment rates, at 6.4 and 5.7 per cent, with Western Australia and South Australia the lowest states at 5 and 4.7 per cent.

Reserve Bank research released yesterday found that the two groups most likely to have hung on to their jobs or to have kept looking for jobs during the downturn were older Australians and married women.

"One explanation is that workers who were nearing retirement age decided to stay in the workforce
longer – regardless of deteriorating employment prospects – in order to make up for the decline in expected retirement income," says the report. "Also, previously non-working spouses may have entered the labour force in an attempt to diversify household income, owing to expectations of rising unemployment."

Full-time jobs since August Unemployment rate

Victoria +36,500 5.3%
Queensland +26,800 5.7%
South Australia +24,000 4.7%
Western Australia +19,000 5.0%
Tasmania - 1,900 6.4%
NSW -8,700 5.4%

ABS 6202.0, seasonally adjusted

Published in today's SMH and Age

Oh, here's the guy who wrote it:

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