Friday, August 14, 2009

Women's pay plummets (relative to mens')

You've come a long way baby?

Women are emerging as hidden victims of the downturn with female earnings falling to their lowest point relative to men's in two decades even as women outshine men in getting jobs.

Earnings figures for May put average female pay at $54,907; just 82 per cent of the $66,581 male average - the lowest proportion in 21 years.

Big jumps in earnings in the construction and mining industries lie behind the change along with much smaller increases or delinces in pay in the retail industry, accommodation cafes and restaurants, and the public service, finance, insurance and communications sectors.

Mining and construction earnings jumped 3.3 and 3.2 per cent in the 3 months to May. By contrast retail earnings climbed 1.2 per cent, and hospitality earnings went backwards 0.2 per cent...

Figures on hours worked also released yesterday show that while the total number of Australians in work remained little changed over the past year the number putting in 40 hours or more per week slid 304,200.

Women have gained 45,100 jobs as men have lost 44,900 jobs.

Earnings remain the highest in the male-dominated mining industry where the average has hit $107,723, and the lowest in the female-dominated accommodation, caf├ęs and restaurants sector where the average has slumped to $33,543.

"It's the trend that deserves further study and explanation, not the actual level," said CommSec economist Craig James. "Women's earnings have been falling relative to mens for five years."

Total earnings climbed 3.8 per cent over the year to May, well above the 1.5 per cent inflation rate suggesting consumers have room to increase retail spending beyond its current record highs.

Westpac-Melbourne Institute research released yesterday showed fears about unemployment receding sharply with the number of Australians expecting unemployment to climb slipping 13.9 per cent in the month of August, the biggest fall on record.

"This is why consumer confidence is soaring. We're feeling more secure about our jobs," said Westpac economist Julie Doel. "There's now less risk that spending will ease off in the second half of the year."

Adding weight to forecasts of further record spending are indications that around $6 billion of the government's $21 billion bonus payments remain to be spent.

When the Melbourne Institute asked recipients how much of the payments they had spent 62 per cent said they'd spent the lot and a further 8 per cent said they had spent more than half. Some 9 per cent had spent less than half and 20 per cent none at all, leading Westpac to conclude that about one third, or $6 billion remains to be spent.

"While these estimates are rough, it is clear that there is a substantial proportion yet to be spent," said Westpac's Matthew Hassan. "What consumers will choose to do with it is unclear, but there is scope for them to keep spending at high levels as the direct effect of the stimulus drops out."

Published in today's SMH and Age

Graph: CommSec, ABS 6302.0