Monday, May 02, 2011

If the PM said it it must be... Gillard's rubbery figures

The prime minister’s office has been unable to back up one of the key claims about employment made in her scene-setting speech ahead of the budget.

Ms Gillard told the Sydney Institute on April 13 “the social and economic reality of our country is that there are people who can work who do not”.

As evidence she said “we know there are 230,000 people who have been unemployed for more than two years”.

The Bureau of Statistics March labour force survey found 52,664 Australians unemployed for two years or more; less than one quarter the number quoted by the prime minister.

Because the ABS surveys only a sample of the population it cannot be certain its estimate is correct, but its tables suggest it is 95 per cent confident the true number of Australians unemployed for two years or more lies between 36,300 and 69,100...

Late yesterday after two weeks of unanswered queries the prime minister’s office told The Age the figure of 230,000 represented the number of people registered with employment services who had been on income support for at least two years. Defining these people as unemployed was a “long standing practice”.

Asked if he could explain the discrepancy Australian National University economist Bob Gregory said income support was paid to Australians in part-time and casual work, meaning the number of people on income support for two years could not be used to estimate the number of out of work for two years.

He said it was surprising so little had been done to explore the relationship between the two sets of statistics.

In other parts of her speech the Prime Minister preferred the ABS measure, lauding Labor's success in creating 750,000 jobs since it took office. The former employment minister said youth unemployment was "still double the overall unemployment rate".

The latest figures show it more than three times the overall unemployment rate at 16.6 per cent compared to 4.9 per cent.

Published in today's SMH and Age

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